WHEELING - Whenever West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit get together in men's basketball it never fails to disappoint.
Such was the case again Saturday afternoon when the two Ohio County rivals met inside 'The Bird Cage' at Jesuit's McDonough Center with a standing-room only crowd looking on.
The atmosphere and play were both big-time as the nation's number 4-ranked Hilltoppers fought off several valiant charges from the Cardinals before pulling off a 87-82 victory.
WHEELING JESUIT’S Andre Harris shoots over West Liberty’s Alex Falk during Saturday’s game at the McDonough Center. The Hilltoppers prevailed, 87-82.
"The game plan was to get so far ahead that they couldn't make a run," smiled Hilltoppers' head coach Jim Crutchfield. "But, that didn't work. We continually got good shots, played pretty good half-court defense and we felt that eventually things would come back our way."
There was a stretch in both halves that the game transpired just that way for the Hilltoppers.
Trailing by a 30-24 count in the first half, the Hilltoppers caught fire from the perimeter and buried a triple on four straight possessions, including two by Bubby Goodwin, a Wheeling Park product.
All told, the Hilltoppers ended the first half on a 24-9 run to take a 46-39 upperhand into the intermission.
"I thought we executed our game plan well," said WJU head coach Danny Sancomb. "We kept the game low scoring, for the most part. We know they're going to make three's. In the first half, they took some of our momentum after we turned the ball over a few times. That allowed them to get on a little bit of a roll."
It turned out that roll proved to be the difference. The Hilltoppers - despite continual spurts by the Cardinals - never allowed Jesuit to regain the lead.
One of the big reasons for the Cardinals never being able to get over the hump was the really deep shooting of senior Tim Hausfeld. The diminutive guard buried five from beyond the arc, including four where he was basically shooting from the Cardinals' logo at midcourt.
"Open for some guys isn't open to where Tim was shooting them from," Crutchfield joked. "He can shoot it (from there) and those came up big a couple of times. If nothing else, it spread the zone out and allowed us to get better looks on a few of those elbow jumpers that we got. Those can be credited to Tim hitting those 3s and stretching that zone."
The Cardinals got as close as four at 80-76 and actually had the ball. However, the Cardinals came up empty on two chances offensively and then were forced to foul.
The Hilltoppers were absolutely lights out at the foul line, sinking 26-of-29 from the stripe. Included was a sharp effort from senior All-American Alex Falk, who sank 13-of-14 at the line.
"I thought they were really good from the line," Sancomb said. "They got to the line and converted. Plus, they're a good rebounding team, so they were able to get second-chance points. Our kids played hard, but we have to execute better in the half-court offense."
As they usually are, the Hilltoppers were exceptionally balanced in the scoring column. Falk led all scorers in the game with 27 points. Hausfeld finished with 17. Shawn Dyer and C.J. Hester each had 12.
Wheeling Jesuit received brilliant play from point guard Ben Seifert, who scored 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Zanesville product Andre Harris finished with 24 points. Justin Fritts - the reigning Ohio Mr. Basketball - was bottled up quite well by Falk. He still found his way to 14 points.
"We played pretty good defense and they made some tough shots," Crutchfield said. "That doesn't bother me, but we allowed them to get some leak-out buckets, which is a problem for us. We didn't do a very good job on that. Outside of that, I thought tonight was one of our best defensive games."
The Hilltoppers - now 17-1 overall and 10-1 in the West Virginia Conference - return to the ASRC on their campus Monday to take on Bluefield State. Wheeling Jesuit is now 9-8 overall and 6-7 in the league. It will host West Virginia State the same evening.
Crutchfield didn't get into the issue too deeply.
"Cedric is a good basketball player," Crutchfield said. "I am just the basketball coach. You need to address that with our legal counsel."
Harris, who started his collegiate career with the Cardinals, has been arrested for an alleged DUI during the course of this season.
"It was a security issue," Sancomb said. "He had some problems on campus. I don't feel comfortable discussing it, but it was a school decision and nothing to do with me or the athletic department. I feel bad that he didn't get to play."
WEST LIBERTY (87) - Morrow 1, 4-4 7; Hausfeld 5, 2-2 17; Dyer 4, 2-3 12; Hester 3, 5-6 12; Falk 7, 13-14 27; Goodwin 3, 0-0 8; Bonifant 2, 0-0 4; Lamberti 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 25, 26-29 87. WHEELING JESUIT (82) - Siefert 8, 7-10 25; A. Harris 10, 2-3 24; Goff 1, 0-0 2; Gaddy 3, 7; Prati 1, 2-2 4; Fritts 5, 4-5 14; D. Harris 1, 0-2 2; E. Seifert 2, 0-2 5; Totals: 31, 16-23 82.
Three-Point Goals: WL - Morrow, Hausfeld (5), Dyer (2), Hester, Goodwin (2). WJU - B. Seifert (2), Harris (2).