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Hilltoppers play for another region crown

West Liberty, the nation's top-ranked Division II men's basketball team, seeks to become the first team to ever capture three straight Atlantic Regional championships when it hosts Indiana (Pa.) at 7 tonight.

The Hilltoppers (32-1), regular season and tournament champions in the West Virginia Conference, forged past WVC rival Fairmont State 100-77 Sunday night to earn a spot in the regional finals.

In that game, Alex Falk led five Hilltoppers in double-figure scoring with 21 points. Malik Stith had 18 for the Falcons.

Indiana (26-5), meanwhile, secured its spot with a 53-50 semifinal win against Slippery Rock on Sunday at West Liberty's Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex. The Crimson Hawks are ranked No. 10 in the country.

This marks the third time West Liberty and Indiana have met in the Atlantic Region title game. IUP beat the Hilltoppers 84-72 in 2010, then West Liberty returned the favor a year later, winning 89-86.

On Sunday, the Hilltoppers improved their NCAA tournament record to 11-4 overall and 10-0 at the ASRC. West Liberty has won 77 of its last 78 games on its home court, dating back to 2008.

With a win against IUP tonight, the Hilltoppers would tie the Division II record of 127 victories in four consecutive seasons, matching the mark of Kentucky Wesleyan (1998-2001).

The teams have not met this season, but there's little doubt where the story of the game lies. Free-wheeling West Liberty averages 103.9 points per game to lead the nation, while IUP allows an average of just 59.6.

Under coach Jim Crutchfield, the Hilltoppers are 141-5 when shooting 50 percent or better from the floor, including 23-0 this season.

 


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