Hilltoppers Hold Off UPJ, 78-66
CHARLESTON – A week ago Pitt-Johnstown made 69 percent of its 3s, shot 57 percent from the floor and hit 12 of 13 free throws in its matchup against West Liberty and still lost by 15 points.
In Thursday’s West Virginia Conference tournament quarterfinal rematch, both team’s numbers weren’t quite as high but the result remained the same as the No. 1-ranked Hilltoppers left the Charleston Civic Center Arena with a 78-66 triumph.
So, how can a team get an edge on the Toppers?
”You know what, I think they’re 84-2 at home so you can ask about 84 opponents,” UPJ coach Bob Rukavina said.
Actually West Liberty is 86-2 in its last 88 home games.
”I think to beat them you have to have a very good shooting night and you can’t turn the ball over. We did that last game though and we still lost by 15. Everybody in the league has been trying to figure that out for a number of years.
”They just have a lot of heart. They expect to win. They had a bad shooting night but they still won the game. They just manage to get it done. They’re a very good team.”
Despite shooting 35 percent in the first half, No. 1 seed West Liberty (28-1) still managed to obtain a double-digit lead as an Alex Falk 3-pointer gave it a 10-point cushion at 29-19 with 5:43 still to go.
”We had trouble getting one to go,” Hilltoppers coach Jim Crutchfield said of the first half. ”This had a weird feel to it. Especially after we had a different type of game with them last week.”
Though the No. 9-seeded Mountain Cats (15-13) trimmed the deficit to 37-34 in the first 19 seconds of the second half, WLU used a 7-0 run to retain its comfortable lead and stretched that margin to as many as 15 in the waning minutes of the game.
Shawn Dyer led West Liberty with 21 points, while Bubby Goodwin and Falk each added 14.
”I’ve been doing good, but there’s always room for improvements,” Dyer said about his extra playing time, filling in for an injured Cedric Harris. ”When my number’s called, I’m just going to try my best and make plays with this opportunity.”
Jordan Miller had 19 points for UPJ, while Nick Novak and Andrew Cressier finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
The Hilltoppers will move on to face rival Wheeling Jesuit in a semifinal at 8:30 tonight.
”I think a lot of things will be fairly predictable,” Crutchfield pointed out. ”They’ll be a few wrinkles by each team, but no major changes. I think they probably feel like they didn’t play their best game against us last week because they probably didn’t. They’ll play better against us.
”People talk about how this is a rivalry game, but I don’t even think about that. When you’re down here, it’s either win or your out, so you have to play as hard as you can. You have to look at every game like it’s the Game of the Year whether it’s Wheeling or anybody else.”