Bobcats’ win streak ends at the hands of No. 5 ’Toppers

BUCKHANNON – The West Virginia Wesleyan College Bobcats displayed a tremendous effort against the No.5 Hilltoppers Thursday night at the Rockefeller Center, falling 77-66 but showing that the high-scoring West Liberty offense can be slowed down.

Off the back of a five-game winning streak, which brought momentum for head coach Jack Meriwether’s team, the ‘Cats took a great game to one of the nation’s best teams in West Liberty.

After an entertaining tight first half overall, both teams went into the break with the score line 34-31 in favor of the visitors. As the second half progressed, the Hilltoppers stayed slightly ahead, but the ‘Cats showed fight and kept the large home crowd in the game.

With 11:21 remaining, sophomore guard Luka Petrovic found teammate senior forward Aaron Ariri on an alley-oop that made the score 47-42. On the next Bobcat possession, Ariri threw down a monstrous dunk that sent the Rockefeller Center crowd crazy and gave momentum to the Bobcat squad that found themselves down only three with under 10 minutes remaining. West Liberty kept on making life difficult for Wesleyan as the second half drew to a close, but the Bobcats kept putting the pressure on and bringing the game to the Hilltoppers.

West Liberty pulled away in the final minutes, sinking shots at the foul line to secure the victory. The Hilltoppers took the final decision, 77-66.

Ariri shot 9-of-11 and led Wesleyan with 21 points. Petrovic had a solid all-around game, scoring 15 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing seven assists.

Dalton Bolon scored 19 points to go along with nine rebounds to lead the visitors in both categories. West Liberty also had five different players picking up double digits in scoring.

Meriwether’s team has picked up their play after returning from the Christmas break, sparking a five-game unbeaten run that included wins over strong opponents like Concord, Notre Dame and Urbana.

“Coming out of Christmas we changed a lot of things we were doing,” Meriwether said. “We changed our offense, we changed our defense and went to a zone. Guys gradually picked up the things we were doing, bought into it and once they got use to it and accustomed to it and confident in it, then we saw the results. We just had to get familiar and comfortable enough with it to knock off some of these teams.”

The ‘Cats did well to contain the Hilltoppers to a respectful score line. West Liberty’s previous encounters have seen them race past 90 and 100 points, and Wesleyan did an amazing job not just keep them under 90 points but to also to only lose by 11 points.

“We had a lot of goals coming in, we controlled the tempo of the game,” Meriwether said. “It was about 71 possessions. They [typically] play around 90 possessions, we like to play around 66, so it was our type of tempo. We didn’t turn the ball over against the press and we turned them over more than they turned us over. The team did a pretty decent job keeping them off the offensive glass; we stayed disciplined and ran the plays we wanted to do. In terms of goals we had for the game, we achieved all of them. We just couldn’t make shots when we needed to and sometimes that’s just how it goes.”

The loss brings the Bobcats’ five game winning streak to an end, leaving them 7-18 for the season. West Liberty remains nationally ranked with only one loss at 23-1.

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