West Liberty comeback falls short in D2 semifinal
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Alex Falk nearly willed West Liberty State to a remarkable comeback win over Metro State Saturday afternoon in an NCAA Division II national semifinal showdown at Freedom Hall.
The D2 national player of the year scored 28 of his 34 points in the second half, the biggest basket coming on a hard drive to the basket that earned him a trip to the free-throw line after he made the layup. The three-point play trimmed the Roadrunners lead to 69-68 with 3:02 to play.
Moments later, the dream of playing for a national title next week in Atlanta began to fade away for the Hilltoppers. Brandon Jefferson drilled a 3-pointer and the Denver-based third-ranked Roadrunners pulled away for an 83-76 win over the top-ranked Hilltoppers.
This was West Liberty's third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight and second appearance in the Final Four in three years. Without question, this loss hurt badly. It was evident in Falk's voice as he talked in the post-game press conference.
"I saw some lanes open and I was trying to create for teammates or score," Falk said. "I still didn't shoot that well in the second half. No one did. It was tough for us today, but we made a run. The one thing about West Liberty is that we don't quit."
The Hilltoppers (34-2) are a team that plays with all-out effort for 40 minutes, but a slow start proved fatal. Normally the team that blitzes opponents right from the opening tip, West Liberty found itself trailing 20-4 with 10:28 to go in the first half.
It was a rare deficit for a team that averages 103.6 points.
"It was a nightmare," West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. "Four points in almost 10 minutes is unheard of from us. Some of it had to do with us, some of it with Metro. We were very frustrated, but we didn't panic. We always felt like we could come back."
It did almost turn out to be a comeback for the ages against Metro State (32-2), which spent five weeks ranked No. 1 in the country this season and came in seeking its first title-game appearance since 2002, when the Roadrunners won the championship.
West Liberty began getting shots to fall from the outside and finished with 13 3-pointers. Falk hit three of those treys and also opened things up for teammates by driving to the basket and drawing an extra defender.
The Hilltoppers attempted 47 treys and shot 33.7 percent (28 of 83) overall. Cedric Harris was the only other West Liberty player in double figures, pumping in 12 points.
"I'm around these guys every day. They aren't going to fold up the tent," Crutchfield said. "We felt like we would make a run and win the game. We just didn't do enough to win. Metro State played a great game, a smart game, and played with a good level of intensity."
Metro State shot 44.6 percent (25 of 56) from the floor and got 17 points apiece from Jefferson, Nicholas Kay and Jonathan Morse. The Roadrunners were aggressive in their zone, forcing West Liberty to take tough shots, and scored 14 points on fast breaks.
Although the end was bitter, Crutchfield is proud of his senior class that includes Falk, Chris Morrow and Tim Hausfeld. The seniors won 128 games in four seasons.
"These guys have a lot to be proud of," Crutchfield said. "They have won a ton of games and have played a big part in our success."