West Liberty Men Open Regional with Romp Over Bowie State
Top-seeded and No. 1-ranked West Liberty put on a shooting clinic Saturday night in blasting CIAA Tournament champion Bowie State (Md.), 114-82, in an NCAA Division II Atlantic Region quarterfinal at a jam-packed ASRC.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers (31-1) will take on No. 4 seed Fairmont State (23-8) for the fourth time this season in Sunday's 7:30 p.m. regional semifinal. The Falcons hammered No. 5 seed Livingstone (N.C.), 91-73, in their quarterfinal matchup late Saturday night.
No. 2 seed Indiana, Pa. (25-5) and No. 7 seed Slippery Rock, Pa. (23-8) will open Sunday's evening session with a 5 p.m. semifinal. IUP outlasted East Stroudsburg, 76-68, and SRU shocked No. 2 seed Winston-Salem State, 69-67, to set up a rematch of last Saturday's PSAC Tournament final.
West Liberty (31-1) shot 70 percent from behind the 3-point arc in jetting out to a 66-41 halftime lead against the Bulldogs (16-14) on Saturday and was never challenged in bringing the Bulldogs' seven-game winning streak – and season – to an abrupt conclusion.
"When you shoot the ball that well it can cover up a lot of other things," Crutchfield said, "but in all honesty, there really wasn't that much to cover up. You usually have some lulls over the course of a game but I thought we went out there tonight and played 40 minutes of good solid basketball."
The veteran coach would get no argument from a Bowie State team that entered the regional on an impressive roll, having swept through the CIAA Tournament with four wins in four days – including a pair of nationally-ranked foes – to earn its second NCAA Tournament bid in the past three seasons.
The Bulldogs were able to run with the high-powered Hilltoppers for the first 10 minutes but West Liberty grabbed momentum with a 12-0 burst over a 2-minute span, turning a 21-18 deficit into a 30-21 lead, and then pushed the accelerator to the floor.
The Hilltoppers scored 36 points over the final 8 minutes of the opening half to take a 66-40 lead into the locker room and Bowie State didn't have enough left in the tank to respond.
"We did a good job forcing the tempo and keeping the pressure on and I thought there was a stretch in the first half where that took its toll," Crutchfield said. "The shots started coming a little easier and we were able to turn them over a few times and get a little separation on the scoreboard. That's not an easy thing to do with the media timeouts giving teams a chance to catch their breath but the opportunity was there for us tonight and I thought we did a good job taking advantage of it."
Atlantic Region Player of the Year Alex Falk had 20 points to pace a balanced West Liberty attack. Shawn Dyer came off the bench to match Falk with 20 points while adding 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Chris Morrow chipped in with 19 points, C.J. Hester added 15 and Cedric Harris had 10 points and 5 assists, all in the first half.
"The thing I like best about my team is that these guys really understand and embrace the team concept," Crutchfield said. "A number of our guys have won a lot of individual awards but they truly believe that what we accomplish as a team is much more important than anything we do as individuals."
The Hilltoppers shot 67 percent (40-of-60) for the game, including 55 percent (12-of-22) from the 3-point arc, and made 22-of-28 charity tosses while handing out 24 assists and committing 13 turnovers.
The Bulldogs were paced by Byron Westmorland's 19 points while Najee White added 13 in a losing cause.
Bowie State made 43 percent (29-of-67) of their field goal attempts but hit just 6-of-22 (27 percent) of their 3-point tries and were 18-of-25 from the foul line with 11 assists and 18 turnovers.
X West Liberty is 34-0 in Saturday games over the past three seasons
X A limited number of advance tickets for tonight's evening session will be available at T.J.'s Family Restaurant on National Road in Wheeling, beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday
X The Hilltoppers improved their NCAA Tournament record to 10-4 overall and 9-0 at the ASRC
X West Liberty is 3-0 against Fairmont State this season, winning by scores of 82-77, 103-99 and 92-78 in the WVIAC Tournament final
X Indiana beat Slippery Rock, 52-46, in last Saturday's PSAC Tournament final
X Crutchfield has won 20 of the 21 games he's coached against the Falcons during his 9 years at the helm
X The Hilltoppers have a nation's-best 125-8 record over the past four seasons
X They are closing in on the NCAA Division II record of 127 wins in four consecutive seasons, which was set by Kentucky Wesleyan from 1998 to 2001
X West Liberty is now 140-5 (.966) under Crutchfield when shooting 50 percent or better from the floor – including a perfect 22-0 mark this year