The unbeaten and No. 1-ranked West Liberty University men's basketball team made the plays it had to make down the stretch to put away upset-minded Pitt-Johnstown, 101-92, Saturday afternoon at the ASRC.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers (12-0, 6-0) got a career-high 32 points from Cedric Harris and shot better than 50 percent from the field and the 3-point arc to outlast the Mountain Cats (6-4, 3-4).
"I thought we executed very well in the last few minutes," Crutchfield said. "We spread the floor and got some good clean looks with guys in rebounding position. That's what you need to do down the stretch to win close games."
Led by senior guards Nick Novak and Jordan Miller, Pitt-Johnstown trailed just 47-42 at halftime and battled back from an early second-half West Liberty storm to take a 75-74 lead when Ian Vescovi finished off a fast break pass from Novak with 7:53 to play.
It was the first time the Hilltoppers had trailed in the second half all season but it only lasted 9 seconds.
Chris Morrow was fouled on a drive to the basket at the other end and dropped in both charity tosses to put West Liberty ahead to stay, 76-75, at the 7:44 mark.
Novak and Miller led UPJ with 26 and 23 points, respectively, while Vescovi worked the paint for 17 points and 12 rebounds.
West Liberty hits the road on Monday with an 8 p.m. game at Shepherd.
The Hilltoppers opened up a 92-84 lead on a short jumper by Harris as the clock ticked under 2 minutes but Miller kept UPJ's hopes alive with a 15-footer that cut the gap to 92-86 with 1:23 remaining.
West Liberty then ran the shot clock down into single digits before shaking Tim Hausfeld loose for a dagger of a 3-pointer. Hausfeld's only basket of the game splashed through the twine as the whistle sounded for a foul off the ball against C.J. Hester with just 51 ticks remaining.
The 3-pointer combined with Hester's two free throws gave the Hilltoppers their largest lead of the day, 97-86, and put the game out of reach.
"We've had multiple players step up for us all season and today was no different," Crutchfield said. "Chris Morrow hit some big shots for us, Shawn and Timmy had big ‘threes,' C.J. had a great finish on a fast break in the final 3 minutes and Cedric made plays for us at both ends of the floor.
"It's nice to win games by 50 or 60 points but the fact is, this type of game is a lot more representative of what we're going to see once we get into the conference grind. Our league is very strong this season so we need to get used to these games because we're going to see a lot more of them."
Harris had a career-high 8 steals and 4 assists to go along with his 32 points. Hester and Morrow finished with 18 and 17 points, respectively, while Dyer added 10 points off the bench. Alex Falk finished with 9 points, a game-high 6 assists and 3 steals before leaving the game in the late stages with an apparent ankle injury.