Indiana (Pa.) falls to West Liberty in NCAA Division II Sweet 16
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — Shame on West Liberty for not scoring 100 points.
The Hilltoppers, whose 103.9-point scoring average in men's basketball was leading NCAA Division II, had reached the century mark in their first two Atlantic Region games but fell short Tuesday night against Indiana (Pa.).
It didn't matter.
Alex Falk scored 20 to lead five players in double figures and West Liberty, the top-ranked team in Division II, continued its strong shooting from 3-point range to beat No. 10 IUP, 86-63, in the regional championship game at the Academic Sports and Recreation Complex.
West Liberty (33-1), which shot 52 percent (13 for 25) from behind the arc, outscored IUP, 38-15, over the final 13:36 to break a 48-48 tie and advance to its third consecutive Elite Eight.
“Obviously, the score was not an indication of the game,” West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. “Until the clock hit about three minutes, this game was definitely in question. IUP plays the toughest defense of anyone we've played for a long time. We had to work hard. Fortunately for us, we opened it up with some threes.”
No matter the final, say this about the Hilltoppers: They can pile up offense in a hurry, even against a defensive-minded team like Indiana (Pa.).
West Liberty, the regional host and the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament champion, advanced to the final by beating Bowie State, 114-82, and Fairmont State, 100-77.
“They really played well, and they did it from the beginning,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “Thirteen out of 25 threes. You're going to have trouble overcoming that. West Liberty played hard and played together. I don't know if they'll lose (again) to anybody.”
West Liberty's only loss was to Charleston (W.Va.) during the regular season. The Hilltoppers, who dropped a 91-90 decision to Stonehill in the 2012 Elite Eight, will make their third trip there to face either Minnesota State-Mankato or Winona State on March 28 at the University of Louisville's Freedom Hall.
While their offense fell short of its average, the Hilltoppers far exceeded their 3-point percentage of 41.4, good for fifth in Division II.
Chris Morrow added 18 points for West Liberty. Tim Hausfeld and Shawn Dyer, with 12 points each, and C.J. Hester, with 10, also scored in double figures for the Hilltoppers,
It is the second time in the past three seasons West Liberty has bested IUP (26-6) in the regional final to advance to the Elite Eight.
Mathis Keita led IUP with 18 points. Scooter Renkin added 16 and Marcel Souberbielle had 12 for the Crimson Hawks, who beat West Liberty in 2010 and lost to the Hilloppers in 2011 in regional finals.
West Liberty built a 45-35 halftime lead on the strength of it's 3-point shooting. The Hilltoppers started out hitting their first four from behind the arc and finished the half 7 for 15.
IUP fought back and tied it at 48 with 14:02 left when Keita hit a 3-pointer and followed with 1 of 2 free throws.
Morrow's 3-pointer put West Liberty back in front, and IUP could not recover, falling behind by as many as 25 points.
“You look at a 23-point win, and that's really deceptive,” Crutchfield said. “We played really hard down the stretch. “It's demoralizing to burn 25 seconds off the clock and put points up. We did that a number of times.”
West Liberty, which also was leading Division II in field-goal percentage (52.4), shot 53.4 (31 of 58) compared to 36.5 (23 for 63) for IUP. Still, Lombardi and his players came away excited with how their season played out, despite the latest loss.
IUP defeated Slippery Rock, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division preseason favorite, in the PSAC Tournament championship game and in the Atlantic Region semifinals.
“I felt we accomplished more than anybody thought we could,” IUP senior Anthony Wells said. “We stuck with the process and continued to prove people wrong. It stings to lose a game like this. I can't say I'm happy we got this far because I'm a winner. I want to win. But credit to West Liberty. They're a very good team.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.