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WVC basketball: Mountain Cats put up fight, Hilltoppers win

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even the No. 1 team in the country will have to scratch and claw to win its conference tournament.

And so it goes for the West Liberty men's basketball team, which survived a staunch effort from Pitt-Johnstown on Thursday night to secure a 78-66 victory in the West Virginia Conference quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center.

The Hilltoppers (28-1) move to the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. today against rival Wheeling Jesuit (19-9), which eliminated the University of Charleston 72-62 earlier on Thursday.

It marks the seventh consecutive year West Liberty has reached the semifinals. The Hilltoppers seek their fourth straight tournament title and last lost in the semis in 2009 - the year Pitt-Johnstown won the tournament championship. In 2008, UPJ eliminated West Liberty in the semifinals.

"We played Johnstown last week and we both shot the lights out," West Liberty Coach Jim Crutchfield said. "Tonight was a completely different game."

West Liberty, which defeated the Mountain Cats (15-13) by a 98-83 count on Feb. 21, was playing its second consecutive game without starting guard Cedric Harris.

Harris separated his shoulder and is expected to be out at least until the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament, which will be at West Liberty's Academic, Recreation and Sports Complex in a little more than two weeks.

The Hilltoppers, who returned their top eight scorers from last season's Elite Eight team, won their seventh straight WVC tournament game.

Pitt-Johnstown, in its last game before joining the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference next season, didn't make it easy on the Hilltoppers.

The Mountain Cats came into the game as the top team in Division II in 3-point field goal percentage (44.1), but made only 1-of-10. Still, they trailed just 48-43 with 15:38 left following an Andrew Cressler jumper and only 57-51 four minutes later.

A free throw from Bubby Goodwin and two more from WVC Player of the Year Alex Falk extended the lead to nine.

A Shawn Dyer basket made it a 12-point game and a Falk basket and Dyer 3-pointer pushed the advantage to 16 at the 8:49 mark.

"They're the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason," said Bob Rukavina, who is in his 24th year as coach at UPJ. "If they have a bad shooting night, they just find ways to win. They're so competitive. For what they've done over the last four years is phenomenal. I don't think you can compare it to anything in the country as far as the wins they put together."

They also dealt with the absence of Harris, who, incidentally, will miss the Wheeling Jesuit game for the third time this season. Harris played his freshman year at Wheeling Jesuit before spending his junior and senior seasons with West Liberty.

The Hilltoppers made up for it with extended minutes for Dyer, senior guard Tim Hausfeld and Goodwin, a redshirt freshman guard.

Dyer played 32 minutes after averaging 20.6 entering the game, while Hausfeld played 27 (19.3 per game) and Goodwin 21 (16.5).

Dyer had 21 points, Falk had 14 and Goodwin finished with 14 points, four rebounds and a steal without a turnover.

"(Cedric's) a big part of it, he's always good at the top of the press, but thankfully we're pretty deep and everybody plays hard, which is how we keep winning," Falk said.

In Pitt-Johnstown's last game in the WVC, Jordan Miller had 19 points, Nick Novak 16 and Cressler 15.

However, Miller - who averaged 6.5 3-point attempts - was 0-of-3 from the perimeter.

"They were chasing me all night, pushing me off the 3-point line," said Miller, who has a team-leading 82 3-pointers this season and was 3-of-4 against West Liberty last week. "When they were doing that, you have to look for other ways to score."

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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