CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In his last matchup against West Liberty, Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun put the ball in Brendan Cooper and Thomas Wimbush's hands and rode the two to a 93-81 upset win.It was hard to utilize that strategy on Saturday, as both players struggled to just stay on the floor. Each picked up his fourth foul with over 13 minutes left and missed large chunks of time down the stretch.Despite a spirited and furious rally by their teammates, No. 3 West Liberty proved to be too much in a 97-87 win in the second men's Mountain East Conference semifinal at the Charleston Civic Center.The win moved the No. 1-seeded Hilltoppers into today's championship game against No. 2 University of Charleston. West Liberty will be looking for its fifth crown in a row when the ball goes up in the air at 3:30 p.m.
"The fifth-straight one doesn't mean as much as that we have a chance to win a championship tomorrow," West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. "It's all about this year and these guys. We haven't talked about winning a championship, we've talked about opportunities and the opportunity is there."After playing what Crutchfield said was one of the best halves his team had played all season in the first half, the Hilltoppers (26-2) had to survive some torrid shooting from Fairmont's guards.Cooper (15.2 points per game) and Wimbush (14.6) are Fairmont's second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, but despite their absence, the Falcons were able to cut a 50-32 halftime deficit all the way down to 77-75 in the late going.
That's because Chase Morgan and Stevie Browning caught fire as Fairmont made 9 of 17 3-pointers as a team, including 8 of 12 in the second half."In the second half, it looked like we were giving up the lead but the shots they were making were very difficult shots — Fairmont was hot," Crutchfield said. "A couple of times we had hands in the face of shooters and we did a pretty good job. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough.''West Liberty is known for its potent offense (a nation-leading 104.7 points per game) but its defense paid the biggest dividends on Saturday.The Hilltoppers turned 19 Falcon turnovers into 37 points, while Fairmont (20-10) only scored two points off West Liberty giveaways."We've never had issues with their press the last five or six games we've played them and tonight we threw it all over early and that continued," Calhoun said. "Tonight we just threw the thing all over — 19 turnovers, they get 16 assists and six turnovers, we were just giving them the ball. If we'd had another five-minute stretch we might've had a shot, but you can't spot them a half."C.J. Hester scored 25 points for West Liberty and Cedric Harris had 24 points and eight rebounds. Shawn Dyer tossed in 15 points for the Hilltoppers with Devin Hoehn and Keene Cockburn each scoring 11.Browning led Fairmont with 24 points and Morgan ended with 18, all on 3-pointers (6 for 9).