EVANSVILLE, Ind. - The West Liberty men's basketball team had the script flipped on it at the worst possible time Saturday. Known for their clutch shooting and never-say-die attitude, the Hilltoppers (31-4) couldn't muster their normal performance.
The result for No. 7 West Liberty was an 84-77 loss to Central Missouri at the Ford Center in the NCAA Division II national championship game.
"Fortunately we don't have to do this often," Coach Jim Crutchfield said of a losing postgame interview. "But because of that, when we do it really hurts.
Photo by Matt Wattson
West Liberty University fans cheer for the Hilltoppers men’s team during the NCAA
Division II national championship game in Evansville, Ind. Saturday.
"Our guys played as hard as they could, but give Central Missouri credit, they made some big shots."
The Mules (30-5), who finished the season ranked No. 20 in the country, shot 52.4 percent from 3-point range, including a 7 of 12 showing in the second half. Tournament Most Outstanding Player Daylen Robinson led the way with a game-high 21 points and big man Dillon Deck added 16 and 10 rebounds, as Central Missouri crashed the glass for 18 offensive rebounds, and 44 total.
The Hilltoppers, in comparison, struggled all day from behind the arc, making 8 of 29 and turned the ball over 11 times.
All-American point guard Cedric Harris concluded his West Liberty career with an 18-point, four-assist effort, but was limited to four points after halftime. Shawn Dyer led the way with 19 points, while C.J. Hester added 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
That wasn't enough though, to prevent a fourth straight 30-plus-victory season from ending with a loss.
The Hilltoppers used a 10-0 run to take their biggest lead late in the first half at 35-26, but the Mules closed the gap to two at halftime. Central Missouri tightened its defense in the second half to prevent West Liberty from getting to the basket as easily as it had in the first 20 minutes.
The Hilltoppers shot 45 percent for the game, but made just 8 of 29 from 3-point range.
"It was a good run," Crutchfield said.