WHEELING - The raucous 'Bird Cage' inside the Alma Grace McDonough Center was in full chirp, raining down on West Liberty's Cedric Harris, once Wheeling Jesuit's favorite son, but now its sworn enemy.
Emotion? You better believe it was raging inside the Hilltoppers senior.
Managing to somehow silence it all, Harris tallied five points in overtime including a pair of clutch free throws with 10.5 seconds left as No. 1 West Liberty (15-0 overall, 11-0 Mountain East Conference) rallied from a 13-point, second-half deficit to stun the Cardinals (6-8, 4-7), handing them their fifth straight loss, 93-84, on Thursday.
Wheeling Jesuit’s Eric Siefert (31) puts up a shot as West Liberty’s Devin Hoehn defends during action of their game Thursday night.
''I haven't played down here for two years and it did mean a lot to me,'' said Harris, who was the defunct West Virginia Conference Freshman of the Year for WJU. ''I'd be lying if I said it didn't because there was a lot of emotion.
''The first year I battled with it a little bit and came down here and tried to do too much and wasn't playing my game. Coach told me before (this) game to relax and play your game because a lot of emotions were going to be bottled up.''
Wheeling Jesuit held West Liberty to 38-percent shooting, stayed within seven (49-42) on the glass and only turned the ball over 11 times, yet still came out on the losing end. The Cardinals blistered the first-half nets to the tune of 54 percent, including 64 (9 of 14) from beyond the 3-point arc.
''As well as we shot the ball in the first half, we shot it as poorly in the second half,'' said WJU coach Danny Sancomb, whose team has dropped 17 of the last 19 in the 145-game Route 88 Rivalry. ''I thought we had some great looks the first 10 minutes of the second half and they just didn't go down.
''We've got to make that one particular play in a game. We've got to make that, whether it's a rebound, a charge, a jumpshot or a layup.''
West Liberty did make those plays down the stretch.
The Hilltoppers trailed 57-44 early in the second half after two of Andre Harris' 15 points. However, WLU took its first lead since it was 10-8 when Devin Hoehn drilled his fifth and final 3-pointer to make it 70-69 with 3:42 remaining.
The teams battled back and forth down the stretch with Shawn Dyer knocking down a 3 with 1:30 to go to not only put his team ahead momentarily - Andre Harris' bucket sent it to overtime tied at 77-77- but also to become the 45th member of West Liberty's 1,000-point club.
''I think Shawn struggled early on and looked kind of timid,'' West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. ''I think in the last part of the game he thought 'I've been here for a long time and I've got to make something happen.'
''It worked out for him. He did make something happen.''
West Liberty went ahead 81-77 to begin the extra session as Hoehn, who had 20 points and seven rebounds, scored on a putback and Dyer drained two free throws -the Toppers were 25 of 28 as a team.
Eric Siefert tied it again with a pair of pull-up jumpers from around the foul line, but C.J. Hester (10 points, seven rebounds) got the Hilltoppers back ahead with a tough score inside, just before Andre Harris tied it for the final time at 83-83.
''There's nothing like a comeback,'' said Crutchfield, whose team trailed at halftime for the first time this season. ''One thing for sure, we weren't going to go away, especially our effort.
''Our effort was good and I thought we made just enough shots to win.''
Cedric Harris had a team-high 22 points for the Hilltoppers to go along with five assists and four rebounds. Seger Bonifant finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds.
''He's a little bit of a marked man as far as perimeter shooting,'' Crutchfield said. ''But, he's evolving into a complete player."
Justin Fritts led the Cardinals with 26 points, 22 of which came in the first half when the Cardinals shot 9 of 14 from 3-point land. He added seven assists and four rebounds.
Siefert was strong with a 22-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist performance. Matt Stewart provided quality time off the bench with six points, eight boards and a pair of steals.
''Matt Stewart, that's what we need from him on a consistent basis,'' Sancomb said. ''He's got great effort, is a great rebounder and plays extremely hard.
''He's done that numerous times this year but has gone away for a couple of games which is typical of a freshman.''