CHARLESTON - When you play the nation's top team, you need to play nearly perfect for 40 minutes to get the win.
Wheeling Jesuit didn't do that in its West Virginia Conference Tournament men's semifinal game against No. 1-ranked West Liberty on Friday night as the Toppers left the Charleston Civic Center Arena with a 92-73 triumph.
With the victory, the Hilltoppers advance to their fourth straight championship game today and will try to win their third consecutive title against No. 2 seed Fairmont at 3:30.
West Liberty University’s C.J. Hester (13) shoots a layup during Friday night’s game.
The Hilltoppers (29-1) came out of the gate on fire as they only needed the first seven minutes of the game to build an 18-point lead at 30-12.
"Timmy (Hausfeld) came out and stretched the zone out a little bit, opened some things in the gut," Toppers coach Jim Crutchfield said. "I thought we played really well in the first half in addition to shooting the ball well."
A Shawn Dyer 3-pointer ended the first half and gave WLU a 21-point halftime lead at 54-33 as the Toppers shot 60 percent (21 of 35) from the floor and 50 percent (10-20) from 3-point range.
"They're a fast-starting team," WJU coach Danny Sancomb said. "If you play them, you have to start and finish each half. We didn't do that. We didn't do the things we needed to do in the first half. They're a team that, if you drive the ball at them, you can get to the foul line because I think they do foul a lot."
Though the Cardinals (19-10) did shoot the ball fairly well (13 of 30), they couldn't get many second-chance points as West Liberty held WJU to only 12 first-half rebounds.
"We didn't rebound real well and that's usually a key against them," Cardinals senior Ben Siefert said. "Obviously, they shot the ball really well. No lead is safe in that kind of game. I knew we would make a run sooner or later."
That they did, even after the Toppers held a 25-point lead with 14:42 left to play. WJU used an 15-9 spurt to get within nine, but wouldn't get any closer as West Liberty closed out the game on a 13-3 run.
"It was a rough first half and that had a lot to do with West Liberty," Sancomb pointed out "They came out and made some tough shots and just had a very good start. I thought we did a pretty good job with about three minutes left cutting it to nine. We just didn't finish the half."
The Hilltoppers finished the night shooting 54 percent to go along with 16 3s.
Leading the charge was WVC Player of the Year Alex Falk with a game-high 25 points.
Shawn Dyer added 19 points, while C.J. Hester and Hausfeld both scored 14 points apiece.
Hester added a game-high 12 rebounds.
WVC Freshman of the Year Justin Fritts led WJU with 16 points, while Siefert added 14 before fouling out in the second half.
Joe Prati chipped in 13 and Eric Siefert ended with 11.