WHEELING - The West Virginia Intercollegiate Conference Men's Basketball Tournament doesn't begin until next week but the University of Charleston and host Wheeling Jesuit University put on a championship-type struggle Thursday night at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.
In a torrid back-and-forth contest that featured nine ties and 14 lead exchanges, the Cardinals went in front when Ben Siefert cashed a spinning layup at the outset of the second overtime and Coach Danny Sancomb's club went on from there to an 86-80 victory.
''This was a big win for our guys," Sancomb said after his team completed a sweep of the season series from the talented Golden Eagles and improved their overall record to 17-8, 14-7 against league foes. Wheeling Jesuit also continued its late-season roll as the victory was its eighth in a row.
The Cardinals haven't lost since an 87-82 home-court setback at the hands of NCAA Division II national power West Liberty University. The backyard rivals meet Saturday afternoon on the hilltop campus in a mutual regular season finale.
''Charleston is a very solid with a lot of excellent players, and I thought both teams battled for the win from the start to the end of the game," Sancomb added.
With Radford University transfer Evan Faulkner burying five 3s and scoring 19 of his 22 points in the first half, the Golden Eagles left the court ahead 29-27 lead at halftime and their biggest lead was 44-37 after an Xavier Humphrey 3-pointer near the 15-minute mark of the second half.
Helped out by a technical foul against the Charleston bench, Wheeling pulled into a 47-47 tie on a Joe Prati free throw and then gained a lead on a steal by standout freshman Justin Fritts and he turned it into a 50-47 lead. On the night, the former Ohio Mr. Basketball was credited with 10 steals to go with his game-high 25 points and two assists.
The Cardinals appeared on the way to victory late in regulation after Siefert penetrated the lane and laid the ball off the glass for a 66-63 lead with less than a minute remaining. Humphrey, who got hot after Faulkner cooled off and knocked in four treys during the second half, got Charleston even again by swishing a 3-pointer at the 33-second mark.
With the shot clock turned off, Wheeling Jesuit had an opportunity for a game-winning shot but Siefert's turnaround 3-point attempt bounced harmlessly off the rim at the buzzer.
Terrell Lipkins cashed a 3-pointer halfway through the first overtime to put Charleston ahead for the final time at 69-66. Eric Siefert's two free throws was followed by older brother Ben Siefert's basket as Wheeling Jesuit jumped back in front 70-69.
The Cardinals again appeared on the way to victory, leading 74-71at the 27-second mark only to see Lipkins connect on yet another long-distance shot to tie it up again. Wheeling's opportunity for another game-winning basket was denied as the result of a turnover and Charleston nearly pulled off a miracle finish when Robbie Dreher's desperation toss from just past midcourt drew iron but did not drop.
Wheeling scored the first six points of the second overtime to finally take command.
Charleston (17-8, 13-8) got no closer that 84-80 after still another Lipkins three-ball with 18 seconds left. Eric Siefert then closed out the victory and the scoring for both sides by netting two free throws at the 15-second mark.
Fritts' 25 points was supported by 19 from Gaddy, 18 by Ben Siefert and 14 from Eric Siefert. Ben Siefert also was charted with nine assists.
Prati blocked a total of four shots and helped the hosts stay within 43-36 in rebounding by pulling down 10 missed shots.
Charleston also had four double-figure scorers as backing Faulkner's 22 points were Dreher with 20, while Lipkins and Humphrey followed with 15 and 12 respectively.
West Liberty 98, UPJ 83
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -All-American Alex Falk scored 32 points and No. 3 West Liberty drained a season-high 17 3-point field goals in coasting to a victory against Pitt-Johnstown.
It was the 12th consecutive victory for Coach Jim Crutchfield's WVIAC champion Hilltoppers (26-1, 20-1), who never trailed in the second half after weathering an early flurry by the Mountain Cats (14-11, 10-11).
Not only did Falk lead all scorers with his 32-point night, he stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals - all team-highs. Chris Morrow provided plenty of support with 18 points on a career-high six 3-pointers. Seger Bonifant and C.J. Hester rounded out the double-figure scorers with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
This was West Liberty's 120th victory in the past four seasons - an average of 30 victories per year. The NCAA Division II record for wins in four consecutive seasons is 127, set by Kentucky Wesleyan from 1998 to 2001.
West Liberty 98, UPJ 90
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - Hillary Southworth scored a career-high 43 points and West Liberty rallied to an overtime victory against Pitt-Johnstown.
The comeback victory clinched a runner-up finish in the West Virginia Conference for Coach Lynn Ullom's Hilltoppers (18-7, 16-5), who overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation to force overtime and dominated the extra period.
Southworth, the nation's second-leading scorer at 23.6 ppg., poured in 19 of her 43 points in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime while Meghan Wiseman scored 11 of her 24 points during that span while playing with four personal fouls.
Jasmin Kiley was the only other Hilltopper in double figures with 10 points while Stacey contributed a game-high 11 rebounds.
Southworth's 43 points came up just shy of Melissa Hammond's school-record 44-point night against West Virginia State on Feb. 13, 1992.
Wheeling Jesuit 56
WHEELING - Tied at 29-29 at the end of the first half, Charleston took an 11-point lead 10 minutes into the second half and held that margin on its way to a victory against Wheeling Jesuit.
The Cardinals' offense was led by Jaila Bryant with 15 points. Jamie Sobczak followed with 10 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while Taylor Lubinsky added eight points for WJU (8-17, 5-16).
Leading the way for UC (14-11, 11-10) was Chrissy Keir, Jessi Cowden and LeAnne Ross, all with 15 points.