CHARLESTON - West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield sat in the media room of the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum on Saturday surprised.
Not by the fact his team just won its third straight West Virginia Conference Tournament championship with a 92-78 victory against Fairmont State, but in the way the Hilltoppers did it.
"I think everybody was looking for a wire game, and so was I," the five-time WVC Coach of the Year said. "It had that feel at halftime, but I thought we just played really good, efficient basketball. Fairmont State is obviously a very, very good basketball team. For us to take them out in a 14-point win is surprising. It really surprises me, but its a tribute to (the team)."
Members of the West Liberty University men’s basketball team celebrate the school’s third straight, and last, West Virginia Conference championship Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.
If you think Crutchfield was surprised, imagine how Falcons senior Isaac Thorton felt after FSU was down only two at halftime.
"It hurts," he said. "This basketball team doesn't like to lose. Anytime you give up 92 points to a team like this you're going to lose."
After both teams battled back and forth for the majority of the first half, the Hilltoppers (30-1) broke a 27-27 tie with a 15-5 run fueled by two 3s by freshman Bubby Goodwin that gave WLU its largest lead at 42-33.
The No. 2 seed Falcons (22-8), however, reeled off the game's next seven points as the teams headed to halftime with the score 42-40.
The back-and-forth pace continued in the beginning of the second half, but a 3-pointer from Toppers senior Chris Morrow ignited a 28-6 run that spanned 10 minutes and a 49-48 WLU lead became a 76-56 cushion.
"They have five guys on the floor that have been playing together for years," Fairmont coach Jerrod Calhoun said. "My guys have been playing together for about four months. So it's a little different. (West Liberty) knows each other's game, they know each other very well. They all understand their roles."
Back-to-back 3s by Chase Morgan sparked a 16-6 spurt for the Falcons and trimmed the Toppers advantage to single digits at 81-72.
However, tournament Most Valuable Player Alex Falk scored six of WLU's next 12 points to give the Hilltoppers their seventh overall tournament title.
"It means a lot to win this," the senior All-American said. "For me and my team. I love my team. We really pick each other up when we're down. I think that was key to winning this conference championship."
With West Liberty moving to the Mountain East Conference next season, this year marked the last time the Toppers played in the WVC tournament.
"It's special," Falk added. "It's been a 76-year long tournament and it's a been a great tournament the past four years I've been here. It's really important to people. It's a really big thing to win it. We had the same motivation, but it being the last year I think it's really special to end up on top."
For Crutchfield, a West Virginia native, the conference might mean more to him than anybody else.
"When I was 8years old, I remember my dad taking me to watch Morris Harvey play," he said. "When I was in junior high, I remember listening to Fairmont State play in the NAIA National Tournament on my transistor radio. I probably have a deeper feel for the West Virginia Conference than the average guy. It means a lot to me."
Falk ended the championship game with 27 points and six assists, while C.J. Hester added 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Goodwin had 18 points and Shawn Dyer finished his impressive tournament run with 12 points.
Malik Stith and Thorton both had 17 points for Fairmont, while Brendan Cooper chipped in 13.