Title Shot Up For Grabs
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The West Liberty men’s basketball team is 40 minutes away from a trip to the NCAA Division II national championship game, with Metro State being the only deterrent. The Hilltoppers (34-1) and Roadrunners (31-2) meet at noon today in a Final Four showdown inside Freedom Hall.
“I’d be telling you a fib if I didn’t say we have been following them from afar,” Metro State coach Derrick Clark said Friday morning. “Even before the Elite Eight, I told one of my assistants to get some tape on them because I wanted to see what they’re doing to get 103 points (a game).
“They’ve got the Division II national Player of the Year (Alex Falk), so you don’t have to sell me on that. They can play, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Hilltoppers were understandably tending to their wounds Friday as they went through a 55-minute workout, a day after a physical matchup with Winona State. West Liberty limped away with a 110-84 victory, its school record 34th of the season.
“You usually don’t have this day in between games, so we have some recovery time,” WLU coach Jim Crutchfield said. “But the guys who are sore, come game time they’re going to be ready to go.
“Obviously we had a hard time and some guys were on the floor regularly,” he added. “Alex Falk was on the floor continually. But when the game starts, he’s going to give 100 percent no matter how sore he is.”
The matchup with the Roadrunners figures to be a stark contrast to the one the Hilltoppers just experienced. Metro State doesn’t shy away from the fact it likes to play an uptempo style of basketball, which is exactly what West Liberty wants to do. The numbers suggest Crutchfield’s club does it just a bit better.
No. 1-ranked West Liberty scores 104 points a game compared to 79 for Metro.
“We may push it just a little bit more to the extreme than what they do,” Crutchfield said. “They don’t gamble as much as we do to force the tempo and force more possessions, but I think we’re similar in the fact that we are both very aggressive on offense.
“We don’t have 6-foot-8 guys inside, but they don’t have five shooters on the floor at once like we do. They’ve got four at the most.”
The Roadrunners, who beat Franklin Pierce, 78-65 on Thursday, are led by 5-9 junior guard Brandon Jefferson who scores 14 points per game. In fact, Metro State’s entire starting lineup, which also includes forwards Nicholas Kay (6-8), John Morse (6-8) Mitch McCarron (6-3) and guard Demetrius Moore (6-1), all average in double figures. The telling stat though, could be the play off the bench where the leading scorer averages 2.8 points a game.
“They go to their bench just to give guys breathers,” Crutchfield said. “Their subs are good filling in quick roles, but their subs are not going to dictate who wins the game.”
The Toppers will counter with five players (Falk, C.J. Hester Shawn Dyer, Chris Morrow and Cedric Harris) who average double figures.
They can also bring in freshman forward Seger Bonifant, who averages more than eight, as does senior starter Tim Hausfeld. Both are a threat to shoot as soon as they pass halfcourt.
“I think it’s fun to think about shutting them down. I think the first thing you’ve got to do is try to see if you can hold them under 100 points,” Clark said. “To me, without giving away the game plan, we’ve got to find a way to handle the press and not turn the basketball over.
“I always put us as the favorite because we’ve been there before and we’ve been in this situation. What it’s going to boil down to is two great programs going at it, and we will see what happens when the smoke clears.”