Jim Crutchfield knows that visiting teams don't win at West Virginia State's Fleming Hall. They escape.
That's why he sported a broad grin Thursday night after his West Liberty team skated off the slippery floor with an 84-73 victory over the Yellow Jackets. The victory preserved the perfect league record of the Hilltoppers (24-1, 19-0 West Virginia Conference), who are ranked second in all of NCAA Division II.
This was hardly a typical game for West Liberty, which entered the game averaging 104 points and shooting better than 50 percent. State made sure neither of those marks were touched.
But all the same, West Liberty broke a halftime lead and stayed a few possessions ahead down the backstretch and pulled away at the end. Alex Falk scored 21 points to lead four double-figure scorers.
"Hey, get out of here with a win, I'm always happy," Crutchfield said. "I would never expect to play here at State and have some kind of blowout, a calm game. I thought it was a good, hard-fought basketball game."
It was an emotional, physical game with 45 fouls combined, two first-half technicals on the Hilltoppers and a flagrant foul at the end which will cost State (12-11, 10-9) one of its big men for its game Saturday against Pitt Johnstown.
Crutchfield warned his team about State's rebounding prowess, but the message really sank in the hard way in the first half. The Jackets owned an eight-board advantage, yanking down 14 offensive rebounds to 11 defensive for the Hilltoppers.
State led 23-13 with about 111/2 minutes left in the first half, but settled for a 43-all tie at the intermission. The Hilltoppers hacked the Jackets into the double bonus at the 10:10 mark, but State went just 11-of-20 from the line.
An 11-3 spurt by West Liberty about six minutes into the second half turned the tables.
State led 54-52 when Falk sneaked into the lane to score a quick basket off an inbounds pass. Then 5-foot-7 Tim Hausfeld went to work, scoring a fast-break basket off a State miss and hitting a 3-pointer off Keene Cockburn's block.
Corey Bethea scored a three-point play off a jumper to trim the lead to 59-57, but Shawn Dyer answered with two quick baskets, a slick runner down the left side of the lane and a very quick basket off a State turnover in the backcourt.
That made it 63-57 with 12:12 left. State never got closer than four points, the final time at 72-68 on a Bethea 3-pointer near the 5:00 mark. The Hilltoppers scored the rest on 12-of-15 foul shooting, finishing the game 25-of-32.