SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield isn’t sure what to call his offensive system. What he does know is that the Hilltoppers don’t play a run-and-gun style of basketball, even if the numbers say otherwise.
After all, West Liberty is averaging out 111.6 points per outing and six players are scoring in double figures.
“We’ve put our names in the record books with teams like Loyola Marymount, but I’d like to think we are more fundamental than some of those other teams that score a lot of points,” Crutchfield said. “We don’t take bad shots and we don’t give up easy buckets on defense. I’m not sure what to call our system, but I know it’s not run-and-gun.”
Whatever it is, the system works.
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The Hilltoppers (35-0), ranked No. 1 in the nation and on the verge of becoming only the fifth team in history to win an NCAA Division II championship unbeaten, enter the Elite Eight with a chance to put an exclamation point on a remarkable year.
The Hilltoppers open against Anderson (21-11) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the MassMutual Center.
“In the summer, we talked about how nice it would be to win a championship,” sophomore guard Alex Falk said. “Coming here makes it seem more like a reality. We know if we play how we have all year, we’ll have a chance to win.”
This West Liberty team has punished opponents with a relentless three-point attack. The Hilltoppers have jacked up 1,131 treys on the season have knocked down 473. Seven players on the team have made at least 30, including senior guards Jordan Fortney and Barry Shetzer. The duo has combined to nail 227 from downtown.
Fortney is pumping in 14.6 ppg while Shetzer is torching opponents for 16.4 points per outing. Senior guard Corey Pelle is the team’s leading scorer, dropping in 16.7 ppg.
Because the Hilltoppers are so dangerous from beyond the arc, though, it’s easy to overlook their play on the defensive end of the floor.
West Liberty is giving up 80.3 points per game and actually had to survive a couple of close calls in the regional tournament, defeating Shaw 98-93 in the semifinals and edging 2010 national runner-up Indiana (Pa.) 89-86 in the championship game.
“We play a lot of full-court pressure, but when we need to, we can really lock down in our half-court defense,” Crutchfield said. “We obviously shoot the ball very well, but we are also a very good defensive team. If we get into a close game here, we are not going to hit the panic button.”
The fact that West Liberty has played hard on defense isn’t a surprise. Not when the Hilltoppers work their tails off to play at a breathtaking pace.
“Not everyone can do what we do,” Falk said. “We put so many hours in to play the way we do, and the time we stop working hard, is the time we get beat.”
West Liberty nearly made it here a year ago before falling to Indiana (Pa.). Now, West Liberty is taking aim at winning it all.
“It feels good to be here,” Crutchfield said. “We are excited about being in the Elite Eight and we want to make sure we are ready to put forth our best effort.”