No. 3 West Liberty put an exclamation point instead of a period on the end of its regular season Saturday afternoon, racing away to a 101-76 victory against Ohio County rival Wheeling Jesuit before an overflow crowd at the ASRC.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers (27-1, 21-1) shot a blistering 63 percent from the floor in the second half and had three players post double-doubles in rolling to their 13th straight win.
"What an electric atmosphere," Crutchfield said. "I thought we shot the ball well, shared the ball well and defended well today but if you couldn't get fired up to play in front of a crowd like this, you need to check for a pulse. West Liberty's fans really came out in support of their team today."
The Cardinals (17-9, 14-8) had entered the game on a bit of a roll themselves with 11 wins in their last 12 games. They had battled the Hilltoppers to a 34-34 standstill heading into the final 2 minutes of the first half only to see momentum swing decisively in favor of the Black and Gold.
West Liberty hit its last four shots of the half – all of them from behind the 3-point arc – to open up a 46-39 lead at intermission and Wheeling Jesuit never recovered.
The margin hit double-figures for the first time in the opening minutes of the second half and the Cardinals were unable to mount a serious challenge.
Jesuit got the deficit into single digits for the last time, 66-57, on a Recardo Gaddy 3-pointer with 11:35 remaining but WLU answered with an 11-1 burst over the next 2 minutes and West Liberty went on to lead by as many as 27 points down the stretch.
Shawn Dyer, who got the start in place of injured All-WVIAC point guard Cedric Harris, tossed in 21 points and handed out a career-high 11 assists in a dazzling performance. Alex Falk added 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals while C.J. Hester checked in with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
"Obviously, not having Cedric leaves a big hole," Crutchfield said, "but we have some talented players who are ready to step in and step up. You saw that today with Shawn Dyer and we've seen it before with guys like Bubby Goodwin and Seger Bonifant. This team really takes pride in picking each other up."
Bonifant and Goodwin came off the bench with 15 and 13 points, respectively, on Saturday while Chris Morrow gave the hosts their third double-double of the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Gaddy paced WJU with 21 points while Ben Siefert and Justin Fritts added 15 each.
After locking up their fourth consecutive WVIAC title earlier this month, the Hilltoppers earned a first-round bye in next week's WVIAC Tournament and won't play again until Thursday's quarterfinal round in Charleston.
"Cedric's doing everything he can to rehab his shoulder," Crutchfield said, "but it's still pretty painful. I'd say he's questionable for the start of the tournament and we'll have to see how it plays out from there.
"It's nice to have a few days off this late in the season but as deep as the league was this year, we know we're going to have our hands full on Thursday no matter who we play but we're definitely looking forward to it."