WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling Jesuit shot nearly 61 percent from behind the 3-point arc Wednesday night to hand the No. 1 West Liberty its first West Virginia Conference loss in three years as the Cardinals outgunned their Ohio County rivals, 109-99, inside a jam-packed McDonough Center.
While the Hilltoppers (25-2, 20-1) had clinched their third consecutive WVIAC title more than a week ago, Wednesday’s loss at Wheeling Jesuit (19-8, 15-6) snapped a pair of significant winning streaks for Coach Jim Crutchfield’s visitors.
West Liberty saw its conference-record 60-game winning streak brought to a halt along with their current 23-game winning streak–the longest in the nation this season.
“They say you can’t win them all,” Crutchfield said afterwards, “but all those wins don’t make a loss any easier to take. Our guys are hurting right now but we’ll bounce back. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played.”
The fans who jammed their way into the showdown between the nation’s two highest-scoring teams didn’t walk away disappointed as the teams wasted little time lighting up the scoreboard in a first half that was played at a breakneck pace.
|TOP 25 SCORES|
|Wheeling Jesuit 109, No. 1 West Liberty 99|
|Angelo State 68, No. 7 Tarleton State 65|
|No. 11 Christian Brothers 91, New Orleans 71|
|Carson-Newman 77, No. 12 Lincoln Memorial 69|
|No. 13 Indiana (Pa.) 61, Lock Haven 53|
|No. 18 District of Columbia 109, Molloy 78|
|No. 21 Anderson, (S.C.) 63, Wingate 57|
|No. 25 Charleston (W Va.) 69, Concord 64|
Momentum swung back and forth wildly with 6 ties and 10 lead changes before the Cardinals closed out the half with a 15-3 run to take a 51-43 lead at intermission.
Wheeling Jesuit held the Hilltoppers scoreless for the first four minutes of the second half while pushing the margin out to 55-43 but Tim Hausfeld and Chris Morrow broke the scoring ice for WLU with back-to-back 3-pointers and the Black and Gold began chipping away.
West Liberty finally pulled even, 65-65, on a pair of Alex Falk free throws with 11:42 on the clock but the Cardinals drained five 3-pointers in the next 6 minutes to rebuild that 12-point cushion at 90-78 with 5:20 remaining.
“We missed some opportunities and turned the ball over a couple of times,” Crutchfield said, “but our problem was that we just couldn’t get enough shots. When you’re down 8-10 points and the other team is scoring on 80-90 percent of its possessions, you don’t have much room for error on offense. We needed to put some defensive stops together coming down the stretch and we didn’t do it.”
The Hilltoppers mounted one final surge, closing the gap to 100-96 when Shawn Dyer splashed home a pair of charity tosses with 1:20 to go, but the visitors couldn’t force a turnover on the ensuing possession and the hosts ran the shot clock down to the final second before Steve Catich was fouled with 45 ticks showing.
Catich made both free throws and then hit four more in the next 18 seconds to put the game on ice as West Liberty came up empty on back-to-back possessions. Falk added a late 3-pointer before the Cardinals closed out the game at the line.
Wheeling Jesuit shot 54 percent (37-of-68) from the floor overall and hit 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) of their 3-point attempts while being charted with 29 assists, 18 turnovers, 6 blocks and 10 steals.
“Give Wheeling credit,” Crutchfield said. “They played very well tonight and they shot the ball extremely well. They’re hard enough to guard with their big people inside but when they go 14-of-23 from the 3-point line, they’re a very tough team to beat.”
West Liberty shot 42 percent (34-of-80) from the floor with more than half of them coming from behind the 3-point arc (18-of-41, 43.9 percent). The Hilltoppers had 27 assists, 20 turnovers, 4 blocks and 6 steals.
Falk and Dyer led the West Liberty scoring parade with 28 and 20 points, respectively. Tim Hausfeld added 15 points and 7 assists while C.J. Hester had 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Cedric Harris rounded out the double-figure scorers with 10 points.
Catich paced six double-figure scorers for Wheeling Jesuit with 33 points.