West Liberty men survive IUP attack
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — West Liberty’s seniors have enjoyed themselves so much during their college playing careers that they just don’t want it to end.
Can you blame them?
Top-ranked West Liberty and its four senior starters kept their magical season going Tuesday night with a scintillating 89-86 victory over No. 21 Indiana (Pa.) in the championship game of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region to remain unbeaten (32-0) and advance to the Elite Eight.
“We don’t want to leave. We’ll take whatever we can to win,” said West Liberty senior guard Corey Pelle, who scored 23 points and won region MVP.
The victory avenged a 12-point loss to IUP in last year’s regional final in Indiana, Pa., and was West Liberty’s first victory in four games in the series.
“We’ve got the senior leadership here,” West Liberty coach Jim Critchfield said. “Sharing the basketball has been key for us all year, and it proved successful down the stretch for us.”
IUP (26-6) led by a point at halftime before West Liberty used a 15-0 run to establish a 54-41 lead. But IUP fought back and closed within 75-73 on a three-point play by Darryl Webb, who led the Crimson Hawks with 23 points and 16 rebounds.
IUP trailed by three on back-to-back 3-point shots by Scooter Renkin and had a chance to tie but missed two 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Chris Morrow added 20 points for West Liberty, which won its 49th consecutive home game dating to 2008. The Hilltoppers have won at least 20 games in seven consecutive seasons.
“Hats off to them,” said Webb of West Liberty. “This is clearly their year. Last year, it was our year.”
IUP reached the Division II championship game last season, losing to Cal Poly-Pomona.
“I’m proud of our program’s consistency. We’ve been to the NCAA (Div. II) Tournament three straight years,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “Our guys played with tremendous heart. We couldn’t ask for a whole lot more. We played well, but West Liberty played a little bit better.”
John Wolosinczuk (13 points), Alex Falk (12) and Jordan Fortney (11) also scored in double figures for West Liberty, which will play in the Elite Eight, beginning March 23.
Julian Sanders added 17 points for IUP. Kevin Stewart had 13, Renkin 12 and Ashton Smith 11 for the Crimson Hawks, who outrebounded West Liberty, 40-31, and shot 50.8 percent comparied to 50 percent for the Hilltoppers.