EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- The smile began immediately.
When the buzzer sounded to end West Liberty's 86-83 dramatic victory against USC-Aiken in the semifinals of the NCAA DII Men's Basketball Championship on Thursday night, Shawn Dyer jumped around the court and hugged teammate Cedric Harris.The Hilltoppers had made it to their first national championship game in school history.
"I haven't stopped smiling since that buzzer sounded," Dyer said. "It's ridiculous that West Liberty is gong to the national championship. I'm still smiling. It's crazy."
Dyer, a junior guard from Marion, Ohio, is a big reason why. Coming off the bench, Dyer scored 30 points to help West Liberty win its 31st game of the season. He scored a game-high nine baskets and hit a game-high 11 free throws.
If only another Dyer can do the same Sunday in the NCAA DI Women's Basketball tournament. Shawnta' Dyer, a forward for Louisville, is Shawn's twin sister. Louisville will ;play Louisiana State in the Sweet 16 Sunday at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
So you'll have to excuse Shawn Dyer if he is smiling a bit this weekend. Saturday, he and the Hilltoppers will play Central Missouri for a national title. He hopes that Shawnta' can be in Evansville for that game, as she was for West Liberty's quarterfinal-round game Wednesday.
The Louisville women are just three wins away from playing for a national title. And when is the last time twins played in a national championship game in the same year?
"That would be very nice," Shawn Dyer said.
After Thursday's win, an immediate chore for Shawn was to call not only his sister in Louisville, but also his older brother, Corey McDuffie, who used to play for West Liberty.
"They had a good team," Dyer said. "They are what started West Liberty. They are what started this style of play that coach has."
Dyer did not start Thursday's game for the Hilltoppers, but in coach Jim Crutchfield's rotating system, that didn't really matter. In fact, in Crutchfield's eyes, Dyer is a starter.
"He's a starter. We've adjusted our starting lineup as a tactical maneuver," Crutchfield said.
So Dyer came off the bench and he was so hot for the Hilltoppers that he played 34 minutes. There were only three starters on either team that matched that. In a game that wasn't decided until a last second USC-Aiken shot hit the rim and bounced away as the buzzer sounded, Dyer played a big role in the closing moments. He was so successful in driving aggressively to the basket that he was awarded 15 free throws. His 30 points was just one short of his career high.
"It meant a lot," Dyer said. "Coach called my number. I was just trying to do what I'm capable of doing. First half, I was a little passive. I didn't get a feel. Second half, I told myself, just get to the basket, do what you're doing, do what got you here. Just be aggressive."
"What you saw tonight, I don't if he's ever been more explosive off the dribble as he was tonight," Crutchfield said. "When it comes to crunch time, I thought he's the guy they're going to have a tough time guarding."
Dyer scored 22 of his 30 points in the second half. A three-point play by Dyer gave West Liberty a four-point lead, 82-78, with 1:57 left. He hit three more free throws down the stretch to help send the Hilltoppers to their biggest game in school history.
"All 12 guys are just buying in to working hard," Dyer said. "We've got another opportunity to play a game Saturday. This brings us closer. We know we can make history. We know we can bring a national championship to West Liberty University, which would be crazy."
And it is certain that Dyer is likely to play a big part in that game Saturday. Crutchfield never doubted it.
"He's got the ability to get to the rim in an uncanny way," Crutchfield said. "Sometimes we have to push him a little bit. More. He doesn't understand his own ability, I think. We have to encourage him."