Sweet 16 Again For Toppers
WEST LIBERTY – Fairmont State had its game with West Liberty at the pace it preferred during the first half of an Atlantic Regional semifinal Sunday night at the ASRC. The Hilltoppers were rarely able to get out and run and foul issues at times slowed the game to a halt.
Yet when Falcons coach Jerrod Calhoun looked up at the clock at halftime, his team was 15 points behind and it only got worse from there.
Alex Falk pumped in 21 points to lead five players in double figures as No. 1 West Liberty (32-1) rolled into the championship game with a 100-77 victory, its fourth this season against Fairmont (23-9).
”I’ve seen every team in the country. The Dukes, Kentucky and Carolinas at the highest level,” Calhoun said. West Liberty ”at our level, there’s nothing like them.
”That team will be very, very hard to beat. We were very familiar with them, so the teams that they’re going to see here in the next couple weeks have no idea what’s going to hit them when that pressure comes.”
It’s the fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance for the Hilltoppers, who will oppose Indiana, Pa., which beat Slippery Rock, 53-50, at 7 on Tuesday night for the right to advance to Louisville and the Elite 8.
”We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done in the past and we’re looking forward,” said West Liberty big man Chris Morrow, who shook off two early fouls to score 17 points and pull down seven rebounds. ”I think what pushes us a little more is that we’ve been here before and we didn’t get as far as we’ve wanted to.
”Internally that drives us to keep pushing. It’s going to be something we look back on later, more than we think about it now.”
Stuck in a nip-and-tuck contest for most of the first half, the Hilltoppers closed on a 15-3 run, with the big bucket coming from freshman Seger Bonifant, a 3-pointer from the left wing that was the result of hustle on the other end of the floor by Bubby Goodwin.
Cedric Harris ”found me wide open so I give him the credit,” Bonifant said. ”He’s going to find me every time, so I just have to hit them.”
Morrow nailed a 3-pointer and subsequent free throw after being fouled, igniting a 9-2 run to give West Liberty a 19-point lead not long after the second half began. Morrow’s trey was one of just six for the Hilltoppers in 21 tries.
”We’ve tried everything. We’ve said limit their 3s and let’s out rebound them,” Calhoun said. ‘Once again they’re plus-10 on the glass and that is a stat that I just cannot get over.
”That’s working. That is a hard-working bunch of kids.”
The lead reached as 21 -the high for the game was 23 – with 9:57 remaining on Shawn Dyer (12 points, five rebounds) free throw, but the Falcons had one more run in them.
An Isaiah Hill dunk ignited a 12-2 spurt that cut it to 11, and Stevie Browning’s 3 cut a game Fairmont never led back to 10. But the Hilltoppers responded by scoring 12 of the next 15 points to get it back to 20.
”That’s West Liberty basketball,” said Falcons standout Isaac Thornton, who was limited to 11 points in his final college game. ”Basketball is a game of runs, but the thing about them is you get down and you’re just trying to get back into the game.
”If you don’t get consecutive stops they make you pay.”
C.J. Hester checked in with 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds for WLU, while Tim Hausfeld netted 13 points, many on drives to the rim.
”He has no idea he’s 5-7,” Toppers coach Jim Crutchfield said. ”Tim did get in there a couple times.
”As a matter of fact he’s done more damage at the rim than he has from outside in this tournament.”
It all sets up the third regional final in four years against the Crimson Hawks.
”Right now we’ve got to win that game and go on,” Falk said.
Malik Stith led the Falcons, who had six reach double figures, with 18 points and six assists. Brendan Cooper added 14 points and 10 rebounds.