West Liberty Men Keep Pedal Down

WEST LIBERTY – The more than 1,500 fans that attended West Liberty’s ASRC on Saturday expected to see another tightly contested battle between the No. 3-ranked Hilltoppers and Wheeling Jesuit.

What they got was a 25-point blowout as Jesuit made the trek back down Route 88 after dropping a 101-76 decision.

The difference between this game and the five-point Hilltopper victory on Jesuit’s campus a month ago?

”They play better at home,” Cardinals coach Danny Sancomb said. ”Most teams do.”

The West Virgina Conference champions led by double digits for the majority of the second half and three Hilltoppers finished with double-doubles as West Liberty coasted to a victory against county rival Wheeling Jesuit in a mutual regular-season closer.

”We just didn’t play particularly well,” Sancomb said. ”West Liberty did a good job, of course, but we kind of ran out of gas in the second half. With our double-overtime win Thursday against Charleston, we weren’t very sharp (Saturday), even a little bit sluggish for a game in this atmosphere.”

The Cardinals (17-9 overall, 14-8 WVC) had not lost since falling to West Liberty on Jan. 26 and brought an eight-game winning streak into Saturday’s contest against the newly minted four-time champs, who boasted a 12-game roll of their own.

After trading baskets to begin the game, the Hilltoppers (27-1, 21-1) used a 17-6 run capped by an Alex Falk layup that the senior All-American made almost lying on his back. Following the ensuing free throw, WLU led 23-14, however, after a 1-and-1 by Justin Fritts, the score was tied at 34-34 with 2:22 remaining in the half.

Ben Siefert trimmed the Toppers lead to one at 40-39, but freshman Seger Bonifant hit two 3-pointers in the final 50 seconds to give West Liberty a seven-point advantage at the half.

Joe Prati cut the lead to five at 48-43 at the start of the third, though that would be as close as the Cardinals came as WLU used a 15-5 run to go ahead 63-48 and eventually lead by as many as 26 in the waning moments.

Shawn Dyer scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half to lead West Liberty. The redshirt sophomore also chipped in 11 rebounds.

C.J. Hester added 16 points and 13 boards, while senior Chris Morrow had 11 points to go with 11 rebounds.

Falk ended his Senior Night with 20 points while Bonifant and Buddy Goodwin had 15 and 13, respectively.

”That’s impressive,” Toppers coach Jim Crutchfield said. ”We put up some good numbers. It’s a good win. What could have been a close game resulted in a 25-point win.

”We made our mark as a balanced scoring team,” he continued. ”We have for nine years. Tim Hausfled has been a dagger in Wheeling Jesuits’ side for four years, but he didn’t have the biggest game he’s had and other guys stepped up. That’s been our thing for the past nine years.”

Another ‘thing’ for West Liberty the last several season has been the ability to make shots. WLU finished Saturday 54 percent from the floor to go along with a 43-percent outing from 3-point range, compared to the Cardinals who shot 36 percent overall.

”We were very efficient on offense,” Crutchfield pointed out. ”It almost felt like if we didn’t turn it over, there was a good chance we were going to score.”

The Hilltoppers were without all-region guard Cedric Harris after the junior was injured in the first half of the Toppers victory at Pitt-Johnstown.

”It’s a big loss,” Crutchfield said of Harris. ”He’s a 17-point scorer, leads us in assists and is our best defender on the ball. He plays hard. Fortunately for us, we have guys that can step up and make plays. Obviously Bubby Goodwin put in a lot of time on the court (Saturday) and played extremely well. Shawn has been playing better and better every game. We’re a team basketball.

Recardo Gaddy led Jesuit with 21 points behind five 3s, while Siefert and Fritts both finished with 15 points.

West Liberty will be idle until the quarterfinal round of the WVC tournament on Thursday in Charleston. The Toppers are the No. 1 seed and have the luxury of a first-round bye.

The No. 4-seeded Cardinals, on the other hand, will play host to No. 13 seed Davis & Elkins in the play-in round Tuesday.