CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The West Liberty University men's basketball team has won 15 consecutive West Virginia Conference games, two regular-season league titles and three tournament crowns under Coach Jim Crutchfield, who is in his ninth season running the program.
The Hilltoppers are 78-2 in WVC play since the 2009-10 season and No. 1 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Top 25 Poll.
When they visit Eddie King Gym for tonight's 7:30 meeting with the University of Charleston, one fact hasn't been ignored among West Liberty's recent foes: the Hilltoppers (14-0, 8-0 WVC) are taking longer to put teams away.
For only the second time since the 2008-09 season, the Hilltoppers are on a regular-season winning streak during which they have won by 10 or fewer points. Wins over Pitt Johnstown (101-92), Shepherd (114-109) and Seton Hill (81-72) in their previous three games give hope to the Golden Eagles.
It's no cause for alarm for West Liberty, which leads the conference in points per possession (1.34), a dependable measure of a team's success no matter how many points they surrender per game.
"Our points per possession is good, that's what we look at," Crutchfield said. "We're shooting 55 percent from the floor and getting our fair share of offensive rebounds and shooting decent from the 3.
"I'm always concerned, but my general idea is the teams in the conference are a little stronger this year," Crutchfield said. "Shepherd shot 15-of-28 from the 3. We were down against Seton Hill and had a good run to start the second half.
"These teams are good, we'll just play as hard as we can and let the chips fall where they may."
West Liberty is led by guard Alex Falk, a 2011-12 All-America selection who averages a team-best 19.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.4 steals, 3.3 assists. Wheeling Jesuit transfer Cedric Harris averages 18.2 points, and forward C.J. Hester averages 14.4 points and 9.1 rebounds.
The Hilltoppers average 112.6 points per game and shoot 54.4 percent from the floor, both of which are No. 1 in the nation. However, no team in the WVC is better at holding down a team's field goal percentage then Charleston (40.4).
West Liberty is second in 3-point field goal percentage (41.7), and Charleston is third in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.0).
Additionally, UC is the hottest team in the WVC not named West Liberty.
The Golden Eagles (11-2, 7-2) are coming off a 92-56 victory over rival West Virginia State in a game the Golden Eagles never trailed.
Coach Mark Downey's team has won six consecutive games, which includes four road games spanning the semester break, but the Golden Eagles haven't faced the test that confronts them tonight.
West Liberty has won its three meetings against UC since Downey arrived in 2010, including an overtime win in last year's WVC Tournament championship game.