LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Top-ranked West Liberty nearly climbed out of a 16-point hole, but for once its high-powered, 100-points-per-game attack couldn’t finish the drill.
Despite 34 points from Alex Falk, the Hilltoppers endured their second-lowest scoring output of the season and fell 83-76 to No. 3 Metro (Colo.) State in the NCAA Division II national semifinals on Saturday at Freedom Hall.
West Liberty (34-2) saw its 20-game winning streak halted, while the Roadrunners (32-2) advanced to national championship game in Atlanta on April 7.
“Our defense was the difference,” said Metro State coach Derrick Clark. “To hold a team like that to 76 points is really something.”
The Hilltoppers, who owned a 25-0 record when shooting 50 percent this season, were limited to season-low 33-percent shooting by Metro State. One of the nation’s most proficient 3-point squads went especially cold from long distance, making 13-of-47 (27 percent), lowlighted by point guard Tim Hausfield going 0-of-7 behind the arc.
Metro State shot 44 percent overall and 6-of-14 (42 percent) from 3-point range.
Falk, the Daktronics national player of the year, crossed the 2,000-point threshold while leading West Liberty’s second-half comeback. The senior guard finished the game 12-of-26 shooting, setting a career high for field-goal attempts, and was 7-of-8 at the foul line, the only free throws West Liberty attempted. Metro State made 27-of-35 at the line.
Two of Falk foul shots pulled the Hilltoppers to within 69-68 at the 3:02 mark, but Metro State’s Brandon Jefferson countered with a 3-pointer to start a game-clinching 10-1 run.
“When they got it to one point, I don’t think anybody on our bench was panicked like we’re in trouble,” said Clark. “It was just time to make a play, and that’s what we did. We just continued to answer any kind of a rally they made.”
Jefferson, Nicholas Kay and Jonathan Morse each scored 17 for the Roadrunners, who won DII national titles in 2000 and 2002. Demetrius Miller added 15 points, but perhaps most pivotal was Mitch McCarron who delivered 14 points and 16 rebounds.
During a rugged opening 12 minutes, West Liberty made only 2-of-17 shots, committed eight turnovers and fell behind 20-4. From that juncture forward, the Hilltoppers were forced to play catchup, a situation unfamiliar to a team that came in outscoring opponents by an average margin of 25 points.
“We’re built to come from behind — we just haven’t had the chance,” coach Jim Crutchfield told his West Liberty players as they trailed 41-28 at halftime.
They proved him prophetic in the second half, charging back against a Metro State team ranked 22nd nationally in scoring defense. After pulling within a point on two occasions, the Hilltoppers seemed to be surging toward their first national title-game appearance. Yet the Roadrunners, winners of 10 straight games, didn’t fold.
“We knew they’d make a run,” said the double-double forward McCarron. “We just had to hang tough.”
Said Falk: “It was tough going for us for a while. We made a run, but they just pulled away from us at the end.”