No. 3-ranked West Liberty avenged its only loss of the season Monday night, racing away to a 95-77 victory against Charleston at a jam-packed ASRC.
It was the ninth straight win for Coach Jim Crutchfield's West Virginia Conference-leading Hilltoppers (23-1, 17-1), who had dropped a 101-96 decision at UC (15-7, 11-7) on January 14.
"I don't know how much revenge really played into it," Crutchfield said. "Our guys have a lot of pride and they heard the chants of ‘overrated' when we lost down there but you expect that when you're on the road. I know that our guys went out there tonight and played as hard as they could but we like to think we do that every night."
Chris Morrow's short jumper with just 5 seconds left in the first half gave West Liberty a 45-43 halftime lead that the Hilltoppers would never relinquish.
The margin hit double-figures for the first time, 55-45, on an Alex Falk 3-pointer at 15:45 of the second half and stretched to 67-52 when Cedric Harris hit 1-of-2 free throws following a technical on the Charleston bench with 11:43 remaining.
The Golden Eagles answered with a 13-3 run, trimming the deficit to 70-65 with 9:19 to go but it was too little, too late.
West Liberty freshman Seger Bonifant drained three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt and Falk followed with a conventional 3-point play to restore the hosts' double-digit lead, 76-65, and Charleston never threatened again.
The Hilltoppers put on a clinic down the stretch, milking the shot clock down into single digits before knocking down a clutch shot or drawing a foul.
"We talk about end-game stuff all the time in practice," Crutchfield said. "If you can burn some clock and score at the end of your possessions, you're going to win some basketball games and that's exactly what we did. This really wasn't an 18-point game but we either got a good look or got fouled on every possession over the last 5 minutes and were able to stretch it out at the end."
Despite limping off the floor with an ankle injury at one point in the second half, Falk led West Liberty with 25 points. He also added 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and zero turnovers in a gusty 38 minutes. Fellow senior Chris Morrow had one of his best games of the season with 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds while Dyer, Tim Hausfeld and C.J. Hester all weighed in with 10 points.
The Golden Eagles got a game-high 26 points from Quincy Washington and 20 more from Terrell Lipkins in suffering their fifth loss in the last eight games.
The Hilltoppers head to Fairmont State on Saturday for a 4 p.m. showdown against the second-place Falcons.
X Saturday's game at Fairmont will be televised live on Root Sports Pittsburgh
X West Liberty extended its WVIAC home winning streak to 52 games
X Falk moved into a tie with Joe Blaha for 9th place on the Hilltoppers' all-time scoring list with 1,734 career points
X Crutchfield has won 12 of the 14 games he's coached against Charleston
X West Liberty is now 69-2 in its last 71 conference games at the ASRC over the past eight seasons
X The Hilltoppers have won 95 of their last 98 regular season games