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West Lib plays for spot in title game

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Cedric Harris has been a scoring threat since being named the West Virginia Conference freshman of the year for Wheeling Jesuit in the 2008-09 season.

Harris transferred to West Liberty State last season and has scored more than 1,500 points in his career, including 477 this season for the top-ranked Hilltoppers.

Yet the thing about the junior guard's ability to score is that he doesn't have to be the go-to guy, not on a team that puts up 103.6 points per game and has five players averaging in double-figure scoring.

"Our whole team can score points," Harris said Friday afternoon. "The trust factor we have in each other takes a lot of pressure off. We know we can count on each other."

That sense of trust has fueled the teamwork the Hilltoppers have used to reach the NCAA Division II semifinals for the second time in three seasons. West Liberty (34-1) will battle No. 3 Metro State (31-2) at noon today at Freedom Hall for a berth in next Sunday's national championship game at Philips Arena in Atlanta. 

West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield, whose Hilltoppers lost in the semifinals two years ago, hasn't talked too much about the magnitude of the moment. 

"Our players know what is at stake," Crutchfield said. "They have been here before, but there is always that feeling of wanting more. Our team is not just happy to be here and neither is Metro State."

Harris has been pivotal for the Hilltoppers, who were beaten 91-90 by Stonehill in the 2012 Elite Eight. He is pumping in 16.9 points per outing and lit up Winona State for 23 in West Liberty's 110-84 quarterfinal win on Thursday.

Harris has stepped outside often, hitting 33 3-pointers on the season, and has also tallied 145 assists and 66 steals.

If he has a big scoring night he's happy, but stats matter little to Harris.

"I try to do as much as I can to help our team win," he said. "Whether it's defending, scoring or just passing the ball, it doesn't matter to me. All that matters to me is that we win the game."

Beating No. 3 Metro State, a team that spent five weeks at No. 1 in the nation, won't be easy. The Roadrunners play an up-tempo style similar to what the Hilltoppers utilize.

Most nights, West Liberty can wear down an opponent with its 40 minutes of all-out effort, but Crutchfield doesn't expect to tire out Metro State, which averages nearly 80 points and allows 62.4 per game.

"They are very aggressive around the perimeter and are very talented," Crutchfield said. "We have been able to wear a lot of teams down, but I don't think were going to be able to do that to them."

Harris said he caught a little of Metro State's 78-65 quarterfinal win over Franklin Pierce on Thursday and is ready for the challenge.

"They like to pressure the way we do and are very good," Harris said. "We just have to play hard until the end like we have all year."

The West Liberty-Metro State winner plays in the Division II national championship game at 2:30 p.m. on April 7 in Atlanta against the winner of today's other semifinal between Drury and South Carolina-Aiken.

 


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