CHARLESTON - They would never have admitted to it publicly, at least not prior to Friday night, but the West Liberty men's basketball team had said as much privately. The Hilltoppers were rooting for Notre Dame College, which handed them their first conference home loss in 60 games Jan. 30, to knock off West Virginia State in a Mountain East Conference Tournament play-in game.
Ask, and you shall receive.
Led by Shawn Dyer's 27 points and 24 more from Bubby Goodwin, top-seeded West Liberty (25-2) shot 60 perecent and ran away for a 107-86 victory against the Falcons (11-19) in a quarterfinal matchup at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum. What the Hilltoppers hope is a redemption tour continues with a matchup against Fairmont State, the only other team to beat them, in tonight's 8 p.m. semifinal contest.
West Liberty’s Bubby Goodwin goes up for a shot during a MEC Tournament quarterfinal game at the Charleston Civic Center.
"We all discussed it as a team and Coach asked us who we wanted to play and we all pretty much said Notre Dame," said senior point guard Cedric Harris, who scored 13 points, handed out six assists and grabbed five rebounds. " We know that we let that one get by us and we know that they outhustled us on our home court and that's what we're known for at West Liberty, is our hustle plays.
"We didn't do that (Friday) and that showed."
Thanks to a 39 of 65 showing from the floor and 13 of 28 from 3, West Liberty, which is ranked No. 3 in the country, is still on track to win its fourth consecutive conference tournament, and with that, gain the No. 1 seed and the right to play host to the Atlantic Regional for the fifth straight time.
Playing with more energy was the focus for the Hilltoppers against the Falcons this time around, and Harris was at the forefront. He set the tone out of the gate byattacking and knocking down the game's first two shots.
"As one of the senior captains you want to come out stronger than you did the last time," Harris said. "Everybody will feed off hard, aggressive play and that's kind of what happened.
"We fell short at home so we all wanted to come out better."
Notre Dame managed a 5-4 lead on a pair of Lawrence DeArmond (game-high 32 points) free throws but the Toppers regained the upperhand as Dyer knocked down five straight points and they didn't trail again.
"They made some shots, obviously," Notre Dame coach Tim Koenig said. "We had some breakdowns from an execution standpoint and we didn't have as good of an execution game as normal.
"They were contested shots, but they made them."
The Falcons' Tyree Gaiter torched the Toppers for 21 first-half points, yet his team still trailed, 51-38, at halftime. The assignment of slowing him down in the second half fell on the shoulders of the sophomore Goodwin, a former multi-year all-stater at Wheeling Park, and he responded in a big way, holding Gaiter to two points on 1 of 3 shooting.
"In the first half I just needed to kind of feel him out," Goodwin said. "After that we kind of knew what he was going to do, which is he was trying to get the bucket and trying to get us off our feet on jump shots.
"We were trying to stay down but also keep the ball out of his hands.
"We were able to do that."
West Liberty scored the first five points after halftime to build a 19-point lead, and it reached as much as 29 with 2:20 remaining.
Devin Hoehn scored 14 points for WLU on 5 of 7 shooting including a 4-for-5 effort behind the 3-point arc, while C.J. Hester added 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds. In addition to his 27 points, Dyer led the club with eight assists and also came away with six rebounds as the Toppers' bench outcored Notre Dame's 69-12.
"I wouldn't call it redemption," said Dyer, who struggled in the team's last postseason game, a national semifinal loss at the hands of Metro State. "One of the things Coach said before the game was to just play loose and I was just trying to do that.
"It paid off."