LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Alex Falk nearly willed West Liberty State to a remarkable comeback win over Metro State Saturday afternoon in an NCAA Division II national semifinal showdown at Freedom Hall.
The D2 national player of the year scored 28 of his 34 points in the second half, the biggest basket coming on a hard drive to the basket that earned him a trip to the free-throw line after he made the layup. The three-point play trimmed the Roadrunners lead to 69-68 with 3:02 to play.
Moments later, the dream of playing for a national title next week in Atlanta began to fade away for the Hilltoppers. Brandon Jefferson drilled a 3-pointer and the Denver-based third-ranked Roadrunners pulled away for an 83-76 win over the top-ranked Hilltoppers.
This was West Liberty's third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight and second appearance in the Final Four in three years. Without question, this loss hurt badly. It was evident in Falk's voice as he talked in the post-game press conference.
"I saw some lanes open and I was trying to create for teammates or score," Falk said. "I still didn't shoot that well in the second half. No one did. It was tough for us today, but we made a run. The one thing about West Liberty is that we don't quit."
The Hilltoppers (34-2) are a team that plays with all-out effort for 40 minutes, but a slow start proved fatal. Normally the team that blitzes opponents right from the opening tip, West Liberty found itself trailing 20-4 with 10:28 to go in the first half.
It was a rare deficit for a team that averages 103.6 points.
"It was a nightmare," West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. "Four points in almost 10 minutes is unheard of from us. Some of it had to do with us, some of it with Metro. We were very frustrated, but we didn't panic. We always felt like we could come back."