Toppers Stunned At Home


Sports Editor

WEST LIBERTY – When you share a name with arguably the most well-known collegiate institution in the world, you can just about forget recognition.

National acclaim is something talked about, but never seen.

South Euclid, Ohio, a town of 22,000, is basking today in a glory that heretofore was something only a very well-written Hollywood script could bring to life, courtesy of Notre Dame College’s upset of the No. 1-ranked NCAA Division II men’s basketball team in the country.

Lawrence D’Armond scored 27 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as the Falcons (7-11 overall, 5-7 Mountain East) snapped West Liberty’s 60-game conference home unbeaten streak, 89-87, when Shawn Dyer’s last-second 3-point attempt clanged off the back iron Thursday night. The Hilltoppers (16-1, 12-1) hadn’t been beaten at home since a 10-point loss to Fairmont State on Feb. 14, 2008.

”Is it a program changer? Yeah,” Notre Dame coach Tim Koenig said. ”Coach (Jim) Crutchfield is a great coach. I know a lot of people say ‘great’ a lot, but he truly is great and that team is truly great.

”Is this game a great win? Of course it is and I am not going to sugarcoat it.

”But when we play Concord on Saturday, this game doesn’t matter.”

It does to the Hilltoppers, who lost for just the third time at the ASRC in the last 101 games. This game could also have huge implications on whether West Liberty gets to play host to the Atlantic Regional championship for a fourth straight season.

The Hilltoppers haven’t dropped many – they’re 115-7 since 2001 – but the recipe has been similar nearly every time. When opponents find a way to make swiss cheese of WLU’s vaunted press and force it to shoot poorly from the field, good things generally happen.

Thursday Crutchfield’s team shot 41.5 percent from the field, 28.2 from 3-point land and 61.5 from the free-throw line. A team that normally lives off turnovers committed one more (11-10) than the Falcons.

Oh, and Notre Dame made hay in transition, as its 37 of 70 success rate attests.

”I’ve thought that we were playing a little sloppy and (Wednesday) I thought we were in danger,” Crutchfield said. ”I brought the team in and it was one of those I need to head this off at the pass (talks). I don’t want to be one of those coaches that says ‘I could see it coming’ after the fact.

”We were looking at some serious problems defensively with things we need to get better at.

”I was unsuccessful at doing that.”

Notre Dame led the majority of the first half but a 25-4 Toppers run in the last 4:22, fueled by 15 from freshman Devin Hoehn, had West Liberty comfortably ahead at halftime, 57-47.

”That’s usually the case … coaches talk about these next five minutes are going to be the most important,” Crutchfield said. ”You have to answer the question ‘are we going to let this team back in the game, or not?’

”We did.”

A 16-0 Falcons run turned a 65-57 deficit into a 73-65 lead and West Liberty never led again. The Hilltoppers cut it to one – 77-76 – on a Dyer 3 but couldn’t get over the hump.

”Even if Shawn Dyer makes that last shot and maybe we’re sitting here talking about all the positive things and everything is OK,” Crutchfield said. ”But it wouldn’t have been OK from our standpoint.

”The other 39 minutes and 59 seconds were all the same.”

Tyree Gaiter added 23 points and a game-high seven assists for Notre Dame, while Jarvis Huntley chipped in 19 points, including what ended up being the winner, as well as six rebounds and three assists. Kalomo Figueroa-Jackson netted 11 points.

Hoehn and Cedric Harris paced the Hilltoppers with 21 points each, while Keene Cockburn and Seger Bonifant had 13 and 11 points, respectively. C.J. Hester had 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for his team-leading fifth double-double of the season, and 29th of his career.

”At our place it was a similar game – back and forth,” Koenig said of a 125-103 West Liberty victory. ”The difference in the game was us turning the ball over in little three-minute segments and they outrebounded us big time.

”(Transition is) our strength. I know their strength is their press, but we’re going to play our style regardless of who we play. That’s just who we are.”

They’re Notre Dame College. Now everybody knows.