CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There was something routine yet difficult for NCAA Division II top-ranked West Liberty in its 78-66 quarterfinal win Thursday over Pitt Johnstown.
It was the Hilltoppers' second-lowest offensive output of the season, only "bottomed" by a 74-62 win Feb. 2 over Seton Hill.
What is it with those Pennsylvania schools?
"Coach [Bob] Rukavina always has a game plan ready. He's knows us very well," said West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield. "He has a way of making us look bad sometimes. You kind of had that feel of 'survive and move on.'"
Still, the Hilltoppers (28-1) answered everything the Mountain Cats threw at them, as Shawn Dyer scored 21 points and Alex Falk and Bubby Goodwin added 14 each. West Liberty took an ordinary-looking 37-32 halftime lead.
The opening minutes of the second half set the tone. After Ian Vescovi made a layup to draw UPJ within 37-34, but the Hilltoppers answered with seven straight - Dyer a layup and a 3 off an offensive rebound, and then a C.J. Hester basket off a stolen inbounds pass.
Rukavina called timeout to stop the momentum, and it worked temporarily. But after the Cats cut the lead to 48-43, Seger Bonifant buried a 3-pointer and two baskets and Falk added a basket for a nine-point edge. A few minutes later, an 11-1 run resulted in a 68-52 lead with 8:49 left, burying the Mountain Cats.
The Hilltoppers didn't shoot particularly well - inside the 3-point arc. Outside was a different story, as they hit 12 out of 27 attempts, compared to 13 of 33 on 2-pointers.
Conversely, UPJ gave no hint that it was the top team in the nation in 3-pointers. Bill Luther hit the team's only long shot in 10 attempts.
"They where chasing all night. They were pushing me off the 3-point line," said Jordan Miller, who led UPJ with 19 points despite getting blanked from long range. "When they're pushing you off the 3 so hard, you just have to look for other ways to score."