WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The late-charging No. 1 Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals battled back, but No. 2 West Liberty held on for the 82-74 win as the two rivals shared the Mountain East Conference regular season title.
After an Eric Siefert inside bucket, the Cardinals (27-2/20-2 MEC) pulled to within six points, 76-70, at 2:25 remaining. WJU committed two turnovers in a row and missed its next three shots on the following five possessions to stop any comeback against West Liberty (26-2/20-2 MEC) in the final two minutes.
“We are bitter as we wanted to win the (MEC) title outright. They played better than us and executed better today,” said WJU head coach Danny Sancomb. “Our kids kept battling the entire game. I am proud of how hard our guys played. I am just disappointed with our execution on both ends of the floor.”
The Cardinals move on to the MEC Tournament next weekend. WJU will be the No. 2 seed as the West Liberty gained the No. 1 seed from its winning the first tiebreaker for its sweep Fairmont State.
Wheeling Jesuit receives a bye to Friday’s Quarterfinals. It will play the winner of No. 10 West Virginia State at No. 7 West Virginia Wesleyan (played Tuesday night, Mar. 2) in a noon contest at the Charleston Civic Center.
“We hope we have a lot of basketball yet to play. We have to regroup and be ready for our next opponent,” added Sancomb.
Haywood Highsmith paced the Cardinals’ attack with 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting and 3 of 4 treys. The sophomore added 10 rebounds for his 12 double-double.
Justin Fritts drained four 3-pointers and made 7 of 16 from the floor for 18 points to go with five assists and seven boards. Kyle Ritz chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds.
Siefert contributed eight assists, seven boards, six points and three steals.
The Cardinals won the rebounding battle, 47-35, but shot only 37-percent for the game (28 of 75). West Liberty downed 13 treys in 33 attempts.
Devin Hoehn led the Hilltoppers with 20 points, including four 3-pointers.