EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. -- West Liberty won its fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Atlantic Region title here Tuesday night with a businesslike 89-82 win against No. 2 East Stroudsburg at the Warriors’ jam-packed Koehler Fieldhouse.
Cedric Harris had 21 points while C.J. Hester and Keene Cockburn each worked the paint for double-doubles as coach Jim Crutchfield’s Hilltoppers (29-3), broke up a see-saw affair late in the first half and never trailed again.
There were five ties and six lead changes in the opening period but a classic West Liberty surge in the final three minutes of the half put East Stroudsburg (30-2) on a comeback trail that proved too steep to climb.
Ironically, the momentum shift came just after a Rasheed Moore 3-pointer had given ESU its largest lead of the game 37-31 as the clock ticked under the 3-minute mark.
The Hilltoppers, who had missed all but one of their 3-point tries during the first 17 minutes, suddenly dropped in three consecutive bonus bombs in a 71-second span. Hester, who had sparked the barrage with a trey from deep in the left corner, then capped the 11-0 blitz with a strong inside move for a 42-37 West Liberty lead.
The Black and Gold carried a 44-39 lead into intermission and picked up where they had left off when play resumed. A Cockburn 3-pointer made it 51-42 less than three minutes into the second half, forcing a Warrior timeout.
East Stroudsburg was unable to put a run together against a hard-working Hilltopper defense and WLU slowly eased away to its largest lead of the night 72-59 on a Shawn Dyer 3-pointer with 9:10 remaining.
Two-time All-Region guard Whis Grant heated up down the stretch, scoring 13 of his team-high 19 points in the final 7 minutes, to give West Liberty fans a few nervous moments.
The ESU crowd roared its approval when Grant drew the fifth foul on Harris and drained both free throws to make it a one-possession game 82-79 with 2:08 remaining.
The Warriors got a stop at the other end, giving them a chance to tie with a 3-pointer but it didn’t happen. Grant misfired on a mid-range jumper and Hester not only won the rebounding battle, he fired a half-court outlet pass to a streaking Devin Hoehn for an 84-79 lead with 1:31 to go.
Moore then missed a hurried 3-pointer for East Stroudsburg with Cockburn clearing the rebound. After running time off the shot clock, Dyer knifed into the lane for the back-breaker, a twisting runner that put West Liberty up 86-79 with a minute remaining. The Hilltoppers closed out the win at the charity stripe.