WVC men's basketball: No. 1 West Liberty wins third straight tourney title
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The favored West Liberty University men's basketball team claimed its third consecutive West Virginia Conference Tournament championship, receiving 27 points, six assists and four rebounds from Alex Falk in a 92-78 victory over resurgent Fairmont State on Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Hilltoppers (30-1) have won 16 consecutive games, and have defeated the Falcons (22-7) three times this season, including 82-77 at West Liberty, and 103-99 at Fairmont.
Fairmont State led 48-46 with 16:28 left before the Hilltoppers 18-4 run to take a 12-point lead just 7 minutes later.
For the Falcons' part, they were making their first appearance in a conference title game since 1985, the year they lost to W.Va. Wesleyan 72-66.
The surprise was the margin of victory, West Liberty Coach Jim Crutchfield said.
"I think everybody was looking for a wire game and so was I," Crutchfield said. "I thought we played good, efficient basketball. Fairmont State is a very, very good basketball team and their program is sky high. For us to take them out for a 14-point win is surprising."
West Liberty, the No. 1 team in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Poll and the No. 1 team in the Atlantic Region, is expected to host the regional beginning on March 14. The bids will be announced on Sunday, March 10. Fairmont could also receive a bid.
"I would be shocked if we didn't get in," said Fairmont State Coach Jerrod Calhoun, in his first year guiding the Falcons.
The Falcons trailed by only two at halftime after a pair of Brendan Cooper free throws with 35 seconds left.
However, West Liberty began pulling away in the second half, leading 56-48 with 13:58 left, until two C.J. Hester free throws pushed the advantage to 69-54 at the 8:14 mark.
"They rebound the basketball," Calhoun said. "Nobody talks about that, haven't seen that in any articles written. I think they get a lot of loose balls, they shoot 3s so there's a lot of long rebounds, and they did a tremendous job of getting to the basketball."
C.J. Hester had 21 points and 14 rebounds against the larger Fairmont State team. West Liberty outrebounded Fairmont 40-32 and shot 54.7 percent from the field.
"Toward the end of this year we've done very well rebounding and it's a key," Falk said. "Rebounding is a lot of hard work and positioning, getting a little bit of extra space, they have to climb over you to get the rebound. It was the key to the game."
Former Wheeling Park star Kelvin "Bubby" Goodwin had 18 points and Shawn Dyer finished with 12 for the Hilltoppers.
Isaac Thornton, who led Martinsburg to the 2009 Class AAA state high school championship, finished with 17 points, along with St. John's transfer Malik Stith. Junior college transfer Brendan Cooper had 13 points for the Falcons.
West Liberty, which has won the regular-season WVC title the past four seasons, had three seniors - Falk, Morrow and Hausfeld - who have won 124 games during their careers, a first in NCAA Division II basketball history.