Hilltoppers Beat Crimson Hawks

WEST LIBERTY – In 2011, a No. 1-ranked West Liberty team, led by four 1,000-point scorers, took the court against a nationally ranked IUP team in the Atlantic Region championship game for a chance to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight.

Two years later, history repeated itself.

Tournament Most Outstanding Player Chris Morrow scored 18 points, brought down six rebounds and rejected five shots as the top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Toppers used a 3-point blitz to defeat the No. 10-ranked Crimson Hawks, 86-63, in front of a jammed packed ASRC on Tuesday night.

”The score was not an indication of the game,” WVC Coach of the Year Jim Crutchfield said. ”Until the clock hit about three minutes, this game was still definitely in question. IUP plays as hard of a defense as anybody we’ve played for a long time. Fortunately for us, we opened with some 3s.”

That they did as Tim Hausfeld hit his first bomb in the game’s first 46 seconds as the Hilltoppers (32-1) connected on their first four 3-point attempts en route to a 14-8 lead.

After No. 3-seeded IUP (26-5) trimmed the deficit to 21-19, WLU went on a 16-5 run to make it 36-24 and headed to the locker room ahead by 10, 45-35.

The Hawks came out of the locker room with purpose on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 48-48 with 14 minutes remaining.

However, according to Crutchfield, his team just needed to be in a bit higher spirits.

”I said ‘hey guys, can you please play a little bit better? We’re tied now,’ ” the Hilltoppers coach joked. ”We don’t hit the panic button.

”At that point in time, we’re playing a 14-minute game. We have to win these 14 minutes. There wasn’t a drastic coaching change. It was pretty much just me being a cheerleader and saying ‘you have to play a little bit harder and a little bit better if you want to move on.’ ”

The pep talked worked as the Toppers hit four straight 3s, two from Hausfeld, and quickly regained a double-digit lead at 67-55.

An Alex Falk finger roll gave the hosts a 20-point lead with 2:27 remaining put the game out of reach and a Shawn Dyer 3 with 46 seconds left put the cherry on top of the Toppers’ third straight regional crown.

”I thought we played really hard down the stretch,” Crutchfield pointed out. ”Our scoring percentage, when we spread the floor at the end of games, is really high. I think the last five minutes, I don’t remember a possesion where we didn’t score.

”If you can burn four or five seconds and put a couple points up on the board, it’s demoralizing to their team.”

Falk, the Atlantic Region Player of the Year, led six double-figure scorers with a game-high 20 points, while Hausfeld pumped in four 3s for all 12 of his points.

”Tim hit some big 3s,” Cruchfield said. ”I told coach (Ben) Howlett at (Monday’s) shoot around to take Tim out, he’s shooting too many from the 3-point line, and those are hard to get. Set him out about 4 of 5 feet because we need to stretch Indiana out just a little bit.

”We didn’t actually practice the area he was shooting them from in the game. That was more like 12 feet behind the line when he let them go. ”

C.J. Hester added 10 points and seven rebounds, while Cedric Harris put in 11 to become the fourth current member of the team to pass the 1,000-point mark in a Toppers uniform.

Dyer rounded out WLU’s scoring with 12 points as the Toppers finished 53 percent from the floor and 52 percent behind the 3-point arc.

With the victory, Falk, Hausfeld and Morrow tied an NCAA Division II record with 127 career victories, and according to Morrow, the trio’s last game at the ASRC was the one victory that stands out most to date.

”Us three seniors, collectively, we all stepped up big,” he said. ”Tim hit some big 3s down the stretch, I got a couple blocks, and, of course, Alex, he does what he does every game.

”I think for us three seniors, it was probably our biggest moment in our last game (at the ASRC). To win the regional tournament, that was special. We beat a really good team. It feels good to keep playing.”

The Hilltoppers will continue their national title quest in Louisville, Ky., on March 28 with an Elite Eight matchup with Winona State (Minn.).