WHEELING - Following his team's 23-point loss at the hands of West Liberty on Sunday night, Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun let fly with what could best be described - maybe, maybe not - as a Freudian slip. He mentioned the teams the Hilltoppers (32-1) will face in the "next two weeks" will have difficulty with their pressure, largely because they haven't seen anything like it.
To that end it seems as though Calhoun doesn't have much faith in No. 3-ranked Indiana, Pa., (26-5) knocking off No. 1 West Liberty at 7 tonight when the two teams meet in the Atlantic Regional final at the ASRC. A victory earns the winner a date in the Elite 8, which will be played March 28 and 30 at Louisville's Freedom Hall.
Hilltoppers coach Jim Crutchfield has no such trouble envisioning an upset by the Crimson Hawks, who entered this tournament ranked No. 10 in the country. West Liberty, of course, is the top-ranked team.
West Liberty’s Seger Bonifant, left, shoots over Fairmont State’s Brendan Cooper during Sunday night’s game. The Hilltoppers will face Indiana (Pa.) for the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region crown tonight.
"Indiana is on a roll. They won their championship game and they're in the regional finals,'' Crutchfield said following his team improving to 10-0 at home all-time in postseason play. "They epitomize tough, hard-nosed basketball.
"I don't know who the best teams are (but) I am glad that we're there.''
The Toppers have run roughshod through the regional thus far, outscoring Bowie State and West Virginia Conference rival Fairmont State by an average of 27.5 points. The Hawks on the other hand, have had to scratch and claw to knock off No. 6 East Stroudsburg and No. 7 Slippery Rock by a combined 11.
Crutchfield says a lot will be made about the contrast of styles because West Liberty likes to force the tempo and get out and run, while Indiana does its best work in the half court and plays a stingy defensive game.
"Is it going to be our style of basketball?" Crutchfield asked. "We're both playing the same game. We really are.
"It won't be extreme one way or another. I think it's going to meet somewhere in the middle."
The veteran West Liberty coach who has his program in the Sweet 16 for the fourth season in a row, also said the so-called experts sometimes try to make the game too difficult, instead of simply seeing things for what they are.
"It still comes down to we have to get stops when they have the ball, and we need to hit shots when we have it," Crutchfield said.
The Toppers, who are looking to become the first team to capture three consecutive Atlantic Regional titles, are led by WVC and Atlantic Region Player of the Year Alex Falk, who is averaging 20.5 points in the tournament. West Liberty has had seven different players score in double digits in at least one of the two games.
West Liberty can tie the all-time NCAA mark (127) for victories during a four-year span. The Toppers have lost eight during that time. Falk is one steal shy of Corey Pelle's single-season school record of 102. He is also 63 points shy of the 2,000-point mark. Point guard Cedric Harris sits seven points away from 1,000 in a West Liberty uniform. He has 1,565 career points when factoring in his freshman season at Wheeling Jesuit. The Hilltoppers are 88-2 in their last 90 games at the ASRC.