WHEELING - The fans who stuffed the Alma Grace McDonough Center called it a rivalry. The public address announcer called it showtime. Whatever you want to call it, when West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit hit the basketball court, sparks will fly.
Saturday's game proved as much as Alex Falk scored 16 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and Tim Hausfeld cashed in on five 3-pointers as the No. 4-ranked Hilltoppers defeated the Cardinals 87-82.
''We didn't do it intentionally for crowd effect,'' Toppers coach Jim Crutchfield said about the five-point victory. ''We were trying to separate the lead as much as we could, but Jesuit did a good job of getting back in it. What we did was we closed out in the last two minutes, which was really the most important thing.''
PHOTO BY TONY VIOLA
Wheeling Jesuit’s Eric Siefert (31) brings the ball up the floor as West Liberty’s Tim Hausfeld gives pressure during their game Saturday in Wheeling.
Even playing without junior standout Cedric Harris, who was ineligible to play due to legal restraints with Wheeling Jesuit, West Liberty started the game how it always does, with a full head a steam.
The Hilltoppers (17-1 overall, 11-1 West Virginia Conference) quickly raced out to a 14-6 lead five minuets in, but WJU (9-8, 6-7) then jumped on board with a 12-2 run that gave it an 18-16 advantage.
The Cardinals stretched the lead to six with a conventional three-point play by Justin Fritts, but West Liberty went on a 3-point blitz, as it made four in a row, highlighted by back-to-back bombs from Bubby Goodwin, to make the score 36-30.
Jesuit regained its composure and retook the lead at 39-38, though it didn't last long as WLU scored eight unanswered points in the final minute of the half.
''Running away with the game would have been good. We'd have liked that,'' Crutchfield said. ''But, Wheeling Jesuit has a really good team. You just kind of expect them to make some shots. Everytime we'd get a 10-point lead, they'd come down and bust a 3 or we may make a turnover or whatever and all the sudden its a four or five point game.''
That's exactly how the second half started as the Cardinals closed the gap at 51-50, but a 3 by Chris Morrow ignited a 14-4 run by the Toppers, which was capped off by another deep 3 from Hausfeld.
Jesuit had one final chance to gain control of the game in the final minutes as the Cardianls gained a possesion off a turnover by West Liberty on an inbound pass after a Ben Siefert layup.
Andre Harris, who finished with a career-high 24 points off the bench, was fouled, but couldn't hit the 1-and-1.
Jesuit, however, recovered the rebound, but a Siefert 3 fell short and the visitors hit crucial free throws to close out the game.
''They're a good team,'' Jesuit coach Danny Sancomb said. ''They did a good job. They did things they needed to do to win the game.
''We kept it a low-scoring game for them. We kept it right around where we thought we had a good chance to win the game. I think we had a good game plan. Our guys did a good job in the zone and made them take some contested 3s.''
Siefert backed Harris with 25 points and eight assists, while Fritts ended with 14 points.
Falked added nine rebounds and six assists to go with his game-high honors for West Liberty.
Hausfeld added 17 points, while C.J. Hester had 12 points and eight boards.
Shawn Dyer, who started in place of Cedric Harris, finished with 12 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
''We've got a good team, we're not about one player,'' Crutchfield said about Harris' absence. ''We've talked about that for years and years. We've got good players and occasionally we play without them. But we got guys that can step up and play. The wheels don't fall off or anything, we just make minor adjustments with the personnel.''
The Hilltoppers have won 15 of the last 17 between the two Ohio County rivals.