Battled-tested Toppers face another one
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The key statement for West Liberty is “make them pay.”
The No. 7 Hilltoppers (29-3) open play in their fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Elite 8 when they match up against eighth-ranked and defending national champion Drury (28-3) at 7 p.m. today inside the state-of-the-art Ford Center.
“They are a little more risky in the half-court set. If the ball goes to the post they are going to double every time,” West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said following the team’s film session Tuesday night at its hotel. “If you come off a ball screen you should be looking to get doubled because they rotate so well.
“That is what I have watched on tape, and we have watched a lot of tape. They don’t pay for it.
“We need to make them pay for it.”
That style would seem to play right into the hands of the Hilltoppers, who enter off their record fourth straight Atlantic Region title. With a shooter at every position on the floor at all times, West Liberty perhaps offers a set of problems in that regard that Drury as not seen.
“We’re used to it because we do it every day in practice and we’re used to people coming and trapping us,” said Hilltoppers point guard Cedric Harris, who earlier in the day became a consensus first team All-American. “I feel like our guys are prepared for it. (Our post men) won’t panic and will make quick decisions the right decisions.”
The Panthers, champions of the Midwest Region for the second year in a row, are led by their point guard, Kameron Bundy, a 6-foot-2 native of Nixa, Mo., who averages 17.6 points per game. He is joined in the scoring column by Cameron Adams (6-5), who checks in at 17.5 ppg. They are the only two Drury players who average in double figures.
“One of the scary things is Bundy is very good at drawing fouls he’s been to the line 140 or 150 times and Adams has been there 200 times,” Crutchfield said, noting that the the job of containing Bundy will fall upon the shoulders of Harris. “Drury is a well-oiled machine on offense and they do a lot of things that are almost set plays that you don’t notice because they do them in live action and come at you so fast.
“They do a ton of ball screens and they do it on the side of the court where they will isolate the screener and the dribbler and put the other three guys on the other side. So you have to recognize quickly when you’re on the help-side.”
The highest-scoring team in the country (101.5 ppg.) for the eighth time in nine seasons, West Liberty trek’s through the postseason has been spearheaded this time by its work on the defensive end of the court. In the three-game Altantic Regional the Hilltoppers surrendered 72 points to Glenville, 85 to Indiana, Pa. (in triple-overtime) and it took East Stroudsburg 88 shot attempts to tally 82 points in the final.
All that adds up to a more complete team, one that perhaps is more prepared for this stage than any other in Crutchfield’s highly successful tenure.
“It’s our desire to get back here,” said junior C.J. Hester, who along with Harris was named all-tournament in both the Mountain East event as well as the regional. “We had a tough road getting through here in the regional, so we’re battled-tested.
“To be successful we’re going to have to play West Liberty basketball, and everyone knows that’s playing a good, team game.”
The Hilltoppers feature seven double-figure scorers, led by Harris with 17 points, six assists and 4.2 rebounds. Hester (team-leading 8.6 rebounds) and Shawn Dyer check in at 14.6 and 14.4 points, respectively, while Keene Cockburn (12.1 points, 2.66 blocks per game) and redshirt freshman Devin Hoehn (12.0 ppg.) follow closely. Wheeling Park grad and sophomore Bubby Goodwin scores at an 11.1 clip and Seger Bonifant, who shoots better than 50 percent from 3-point range, averages 10.6).
“Our route to the national tournament last year was unlike anything I have ever seen. You don’t win games by 20 in regional play, and we did,” Crutchfield said. “This is how it should be.
“Every team that gets here has a story about the close games, the shots that didn’t go in and the reason they are here. We have that this time.
“Maybe they have been tested a little bit more, and because of that if we’re in a close game, I would shocked if there is any kind of panic button pushed.”
If the Hilltoppers are able to reach the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, they will meet the Chico State (25-7) vs. USC-Aiken (32-3) survivor at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The quarterfinals and Final Four games will be streamed online at www.ncaa.org, while the championship, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday, is a live CBS broadcast.