WVC men's basketball: No. 1 West Liberty seeks third straight tourney title
West Liberty's romp through the West Virginia Conference continued on Friday during the tournament semifinals, with the Hilltoppers receiving 25 points from Alex Falk in a 92-73 victory over arch-rival Wheeling Jesuit (17-9).
The win sends Coach Jim Crutchfield's team into the tournament title game for the fourth consecutive year and the top-seeded Hilltoppers will seek their third straight championship at 3:40 p.m. Saturday against second-seeded Fairmont State (22-7).
It was the 15th consecutive victory for West Liberty, and its third straight victory over the Cardinals since Wheeling Jesuit gave the Hilltoppers their only regular-season loss during the 2011-12 season.
West Liberty defeated Wheeling Jesuit 101-76 in their last meeting last Saturday and this one appeared headed in the same direction. The Hilltoppers hit 13 of their first 25 3-pointers and led 54-33 with 1:34 left in the first half.
"I thought we came out of the blocks really well," West Liberty Coach Jim Crutchfield said. "We shot the ball well, got the lead early, and sometimes it's not the easiest position to be in playing against a good team. We might have gotten a little conservative."
The Cardinals chipped away, despite trailing 67-43 with 13:48 left in the game.
An 11-0 run trimmed it to 13, and, after a Darin Harris layup with 4:07 showing on the clock, West Liberty was holding a precarious 79-70 advantage.
The Hilltoppers (29-1), ranked No. 1 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Poll, didn't allow the Cardinals to get any closer.
"It was a rough first half," said Wheeling Jesuit Coach Danny Sancomb after seeing West Liberty hit 21-35 from the floor, 10-of-20 from 3-point range and finish the first half on a 10-0 run for a 54-33 lead. "They're a fast-starting team. You want to start the half well and finish the half well. We played hard, but we didn't do the things we needed to do in the first half, as far as driving the ball at them and getting to the foul line, because I think they do foul a lot."
West Liberty was playing without guard Cedric Harris, who is nursing a separated shoulder that will keep him out until, at least, the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region in two weeks.
However, the Hilltoppers received 25 points and six assists from Falk, the Conference Player of the Year, as well as 19 points, eight assists and eight rebounds from Shawn Dyer - one of the beneficiaries of minutes in Harris' absence. C.J. Hester had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Tim Hausfeld contributed 14 points.
WVC Freshman of the Year Justin Fritts led Wheeling Jesuit with 16 points. Senior Ben Siefert had 14 points, Joe Prati had 13 and Eric Siefert 11.
The Hilltoppers will return to the Charleston Civic Center for a 9 a.m. shootaround today before the WVC Tournament women's championship begins a little after 1 p.m. and pitting Fairmont State against Seton Hill.