West Liberty's C.J. Hester lays it in over Pitt Johnstown's Ian Vescovi.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There was something routine yet difficult for NCAA Division II top-ranked West Liberty in its 78-66 quarterfinal win Thursday over Pitt Johnstown.It was the Hilltoppers' second-lowest offensive output of the season, only "bottomed" by a 74-62 win Feb. 2 over Seton Hill.What is it with those Pennsylvania schools?"Coach [Bob] Rukavina always has a game plan ready. He's knows us very well," said West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield. "He has a way of making us look bad sometimes. You kind of had that feel of 'survive and move on.'"
Still, the Hilltoppers (28-1) answered everything the Mountain Cats threw at them, as Shawn Dyer scored 21 points and Alex Falk and Bubby Goodwin added 14 each. West Liberty took an ordinary-looking 37-32 halftime lead.The opening minutes of the second half set the tone. After Ian Vescovi made a layup to draw UPJ within 37-34, but the Hilltoppers answered with seven straight - Dyer a layup and a 3 off an offensive rebound, and then a C.J. Hester basket off a stolen inbounds pass.Rukavina called timeout to stop the momentum, and it worked temporarily. But after the Cats cut the lead to 48-43, Seger Bonifant buried a 3-pointer and two baskets and Falk added a basket for a nine-point edge. A few minutes later, an 11-1 run resulted in a 68-52 lead with 8:49 left, burying the Mountain Cats.The Hilltoppers didn't shoot particularly well - inside the 3-point arc. Outside was a different story, as they hit 12 out of 27 attempts, compared to 13 of 33 on 2-pointers.Conversely, UPJ gave no hint that it was the top team in the nation in 3-pointers. Bill Luther hit the team's only long shot in 10 attempts."They where chasing all night. They were pushing me off the 3-point line," said Jordan Miller, who led UPJ with 19 points despite getting blanked from long range. "When they're pushing you off the 3 so hard, you just have to look for other ways to score."Otherwise, UPJ played the Hilltoppers on even terms. The Mountain Cats had just 12 turnovers, with Rukavina attributing only one to the usually brutal press. The Cats also held a slight edge on the boards, 40-38, and hit 25 of 49 attempts inside the 3-point arc.But the game was different from a game a week earlier, won 98-83 by the Hilltoppers."We played Johnstown last week, and both teams shot the lights out," Crutchfield said. "Tonight was a completely different type of game. They're the No. 1 3-pointer shooting team in the country and they had trouble getting them to go."Inside the arc, we're shooting 52 percent from the field for the year; inside the arc we're shooting 60 percent, almost. We're 4 for 17 inside the arc in the first half. It had a weird feel to it."West Liberty advances to tonight's semifinal against rival Wheeling Jesuit, with an 8:30 tip. Pitt Johnstown heads to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, along with Seton Hill.
"That's where we belong," Rukavina said. "We're right smack in the middle of all the teams we play. We never had football, so that's why they didn't want us. But they changed their mind, so it will be interesting. It will be good."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at twitter.com/dougsmock.