No. 1 West Liberty wins WVIAC
Hilltoppers win conference for first time since 1971
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Unbeaten and No. 1-ranked West Liberty saved the best for last Saturday night in rolling to its first West Virginia Conference tournament championship since 1971.
Tournament MVP John Wolosinczuk scored 20 points and pulled down a staggering 25 rebounds to lead five double-figure scorers as the Hilltoppers sprinted away to a 94-78 victory against West Virginia State in the title tilt at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
“I think we played one of our better games of the season tonight,” said West Liberty head coach Jim Crutchfield after watching his Hilltoppers (29-0) become only the second team in league history to follow up an unbeaten West Virginia Conference slate with a WVIAC tourney championship.
“We struggled with our shooting at the start of the game again but we had a great defensive effort tonight. That helped get us going on the offensive end and when the shots started dropping, we were able to stretch it out.”
West Liberty had survived its two worst shooting nights of the season in getting past Wheeling Jesuit and W.Va. Wesleyan earlier this week.
It looked like more of the same might be in store for Saturday when the nation’s leading 3-point shooting team couldn’t get a 3-pointer to drop in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
The Yellowjackets (20-10) led for much of the early going but the Hilltoppers stayed in range by working the glass and cashing in several second- and third-chance buckets.
That all changed in a 50-second span midway through the opening half when 5-7 sophomore Tim Hausfeld provided the spark which lit the fuse on a rally that put West Liberty ahead to stay.
Barry Shetzer snapped a 19-19 tie with the Hilltoppers’ first 3-pointer of the night at the 8:17 mark and Hausfeld followed with a 25-foot bomb at 7:41. The ball found Hausfeld again off a West Liberty steal and he pulled the trigger on another 3-pointer which pushed the lead to 28-19 and forced a West Virginia State timeout with 7:27 on the clock. It didn’t matter.
Hausfeld, Shetzer and Jordan Fortney all hit 3-pointers in the waning minutes of the first half as the Hilltoppers opened up a 42-30 halftime lead.
Fortney hit another 3-pointer in the first 20 seconds of the second half and the rout was on.
With Wolosinczuk controlling the backboards at both ends of the floor, West Liberty led by as many as 33 points -- 74-41 -- midway through the second half before coasting to the wire.
“People talk about West Liberty and their 3-pointers but they got to the rim on us all night and also hurt us in transition and on the boards,” said State coach Bryan Poore. “Their big guy (Wolosinczuk) had what, 25 rebounds? That’s what killed us tonight. That and their transition.”
Wolosinczuk, a fifth-year senior who played a key role on last year’s Hilltopper team which lost a one-point heartbreaker to State in the WVIAC title tilt, said Saturday’s victory meant more to him than most.
“I told the guys in the locker room before the game that I’d never had a chance to cut down the nets before in high school or college,” Woloscinzuk said. “I got to do that tonight.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to experience this with this group of guys. I’m never going to forget it.”
Shetzer and fellow senior Corey Pelle joined Wolosinczuk in the double-double column. Shetzer finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Pelle added 16 points and 11 assists. Hausfeld finished with 18 points while Alex Falk added 15.
Josh Miller led West Virginia State with 22 points but made just 7-of-28 shots from the floor. Bo King and Will Collins added 18 and 15 points, respectively.
“I’ve been so caught up in coaching all season that I really never had a chance to think about what this team has accomplished until there were about 3 1/2 minutes on the clock tonight and we were running down the clock,” Crutchfield said.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘We’re the only undefeated team in the country and we’re about to win the first conference tournament at our school in 40 years.’ This is a really special moment not just for our kids but for an awful lot of people in the West Liberty community.”
The Hilltoppers are expected to be selected as the host team for next week’s NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional. The 8-team tournament will be played Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday at the home of the region’s highest-seeded team. The official announcement will be made at 10 p.m. tonight in a live webcast on www.NCAA.com.