LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It was hard to ignore the fiery determination in the eyes of West Liberty State's basketball team Thursday afternoon in a Division II national quarterfinal against Winona State.
Much of it stemmed from the hurt of a year ago when the Hilltoppers had the plug pulled on their national championship dream in a one-point loss to Stonehill.
As far as senior guard Alex Falk was concerned, no way was it going to happen again. He made sure of it inside Freedom Hall, lighting up the scoreboard for 23 points as he helped propel top-ranked West Liberty to a 110-84 win over the unranked Warriors.
The win sends the Hilltoppers (34-1) into the semifinals at noon Saturday against No. 3 Metro State (31-2), which advanced with a 78-65 win Thursday over Franklin Pierce.
The winner there plays in the national championship game April 7 at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
A year ago, the Hilltoppers lost 91-90 in the national quarterfinal. Two years ago, their dream of a title was iced in a loss to BYU-Hawaii in the semifinals.
"We were extremely motivated and even more serious in practice this week than we normally are," Falk said. "We watched a lot of film on Winona and brought everything we had for 40 minutes. As you can see, it worked."
The maddening pace at which West Liberty plays can overwhelm opponents. The Hilltoppers are scoring 103.6 points per game on the season and shoot 52 percent from the field.
While Winona State (27-8) hung around, getting as close as 59-53 with 14:43 to go in the game on a free throw by Cameron Taylor, the Hilltoppers had too many options on offense - six players scored in double figures -- and were relentless on defense, forcing 21 turnovers. West Liberty scored 32 points off those miscues.
The Hilltoppers shot 51.4 percent (37 of 72), drilled 11 3-pointers and got 23 points from Cedric Harris. C.J. Hester scored 13 points, Shawn Dyer and Chris Morrow dropped in 12 apiece and Seger Bonifant came off the bench to add 11, nine coming on 3-pointers.