A second-half comeback came up short for No. 1-ranked West Liberty Monday night as Charleston held on to hand the Hilltoppers their first loss of the season, 101-96, at a jam-packed Eddie King Gym.
Charity certainly began at home for the Golden Eagles (12-2, 8-2), who took advantage of a WVIAC season-high 40-of-55 showing from the foul line to hand West Liberty (14-1, 8-1) just its second loss in the Black and Gold's last 70 conference games.
The Hilltoppers trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half and seemed dead in the water when Evan Faulkner hit the second of two free throws for a 99-93 Charleston lead with just 19 seconds remaining.
But senior All-American Alex Falk answered with a quick 3-pointer from the top of the key, cutting the gap to 99-96, and Faulkner was fouled on the in-bounds pass to stop the clock with 8 seconds left.
Faulkner missed both free throws, giving West Liberty a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer, but UC fouled Kelvin Goodwin before he could cross mid court.
After Goodwin missed the front end of the 1-and-1, UC's Robbie Dreher won the rebounding battle and hit two more free throws to set the final margin.
C.J. Hester had a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Hilltoppers while Falk finished with 20 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. Cedric Harris added 15 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals while Chris Morrow had 15 points and 7 rebounds.
The foul line was a double-edged sword for WLU, which made just 13-of-24 free throws on the night and just 4-of-11 after intermission.
Dreher led a balanced attack for Charleston with 21 points while Terrell Lipkins and Aleksander Kesic added 20 each. The Golden Eagle trio was a combined 28-of-35 from the charity stripe for the game. Faulkner and Xavier Humphrey rounded out UC's double-figure scorers with 15 and 11 points, respectively.
The Hilltoppers will try to bounce back at home on Thursday when they host Fairmont State. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the ASRC.
X West Liberty was whistled for 34 personal fouls and had 4 starters foul out. The Hilltoppers had lost a total of just 3 players to fouls in their first 14 games
X Charleston's 55 free throws were the most by any WVIAC team in the past 7 years. W.Va. State was 43-of-59 from the stripe in a 107-97 loss to Salem International on Feb. 9, 2006
X The Golden Eagles didn't make a single shot from the floor over the final 4 ½ minutes but were able to close out the win by hitting 14-of-18 free throws down the stretch
X This was UC's first game against a No. 1-ranked team since a 105-92 upset of top-ranked Salem-Teikyo on Jan. 31, 2000 at the Eddie King Gym
X The win snapped a 10-game losing streak for Charleston against West Liberty. The Hilltoppers are now 11-2 against the Golden Eagles since Crutchfield took the reins prior to the 2004-05 season