SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Jet Chang played lights out basketball against West Liberty in an NCAA Division II national semifinal Thursday night, slicing and dicing up the Hilltoppers for 43 points.
It was the kind of performance that people remember forever. It’s also the kind of performance that helps teams win shootouts, which is what the unranked Seasiders (22-8) did here at the MassMutual Center, taking down the No. 1 team in the land with a wild 110-101 victory.
Chang played the game of his life, and now, he and his BYU-Hawaii teammates will get the opportunity of a lifetime. The unranked Seasiders will battle No. 2 Bellarmine (32-2) Saturday afternoon for the right to be crowned national champions.
“It’s the best I have ever played,” Chang said. “I had a lot of chances to shoot the ball, and I was able to knock down shots. But I also found my teammates for big shots. We won this game as a team.”
Chang has been averaging close to 20 points all season, so it would be crazy for anyone to act surprised that he set a new career high in points and turned in one of the best efforts in Elite Eight history. He shot 14-of-17 from the field and his seven 3-pointers puts him in the tie for the most ever at an Elite Eight game.
The thing is, Chang wasn’t the only one lighting up the scoreboard. Jake Dastrup poured in 18 points, hitting two big treys late in the half that pushed the Seasiders’ lead to 83-74 with 9:47 left in the game.
Marques Whippy and Gary Satterwhite pumped in 14 points apiece and Heath Gameren scored 10 points as the Seasiders shot 56.3 percent from the floor and essentially beat the Hilltoppers (33-1) at their own game. West Liberty came into this showdown averaging nearly 112 points per outing.
“We played an incredible game and I am very proud of my young men,” BYU-Hawaii head coach Ken Wagner said. “Heath played a great game, Jake is one of the best shooters in the nation when he gets open shots and Jet was unbelievable. Our guys came together and beat an incredible basketball team.”
This game was played at a frantic pace, both teams zipping up and down the floor for 40 minutes as they combined for 140 field goal attempts and hit a total of 26 treys.
By the time the first half ended, the Seasiders held a 58-47 lead and had the Hilltoppers back on their heels a bit.
But West Liberty State didn’t go undefeated up to this point by accident. It has the ability to wipe out a deficit in the blink of an eye, and when Chris Morrow slashed into the lane for a layup with 12:47 to go, the Hilltoppers had a 73-72 advantage.
The two teams were tied at 97-97 with 2:30 to go before closing the game on a 13-4 run. The Hilltoppers tried to save their season but couldn’t hit a 3-pointer when they really needed one.
“BYU ran right through us,” West Liberty head coach Jim Crutchfield said. “I don’t think we played bad, but they have such a great team. And when you turn a guy like Chang loose on the court, he is going to be tough to stop.”
The Hilltoppers shot 44.7 percent from the field and had their bid to become only the fifth unbeaten champion in D-II history hit a wall. Senior guard Corey Pelle did all he could to keep the Hilltoppers in the game, scoring 32, while Barry Shetzer poured in 23 points.
“We knew we had a run in us, and we were able to make one a couple of times, but (Jet) stopped us every time,” Pelle said. “We had a hand in his face most of the time and he still made big shots. You have to give it up to him for a great performance.”
There were no nerves for the Seasiders as they prepared for the challenge of taking on the Hilltoppers. It didn’t matter that West Liberty has been winning games by an average of 31 points this year.
“You wouldn’t have even known the guys were playing the No. 1 team [Thursday],” Wagner said. “They were loose and having fun in practice. They went out and played a great game. I’m proud of their effort.”