WHEELING - Wheeling Jesuit coach Danny Sancomb would rather not have to pick his proverbial poison with regard to West Liberty.
The Cardinals face No. 1-ranked West Liberty at 7:30 tonight, in a highly anticipated city clash with their ancient adversaries.
Sancomb knows the Hilltoppers' proficiency from 3-point range.
He also knows that West Liberty (14-0 overall, 10-0 Mountain east Conference) is as proficient at turning a turnover into points via its top-shelf transition game.
It is a dilemma all 14 schools who have faced the Hilltoppers have dealt with. All 14 times nobody has solved the riddle.
"First of all, you have to limit their easy opportunities, and they get a ton of them," Sancomb said. "That is one thing we need to do. And when they drive and kick it back out for a 3, we have to make sure those 3s are contested. You can't just give them an open look."
West Liberty's statistics look like a misprint. The Hilltoppers are averaging 111 points, with seven players averaging between 15.2 points and 13 points per game. They have 193 3 pointers and are shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range. Six players have at least 13 3s.
So how does Wheeling Jesuit attack the top dog?
By taking care of its own business.
"We have to take care of the basketball," Sancomb said. "Our guys have to do a good job and limit the turnovers. That is how we limit possessions, taking care of the basketball."
On the flip side, West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield has his eyes on one facet.
"I don't think we approach this game any different than any other game," Crutchfield said. "We don't get overly specific about how we want to push the tempo or how many points we think we need to win a game. We talk about stops. We look at the personnel and what we need to do to limit what they do and make stops. It's more about stopping the opponent and what we need to do to limit what they do."
It starts with limiting Wheeling Jesuit's big three of sophomore Justin Fritts, who is averaging 18.4 points per game, 5.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds, Eric Siefert averages 17.5, 5.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds and Andre Harris averages 12.5 and 6.4 rebounds.
"Wheeling Jesuit is has an outstanding team and outstanding players," Crutchfield said. "Throw in the fact that it is a rivalry game and you can toss the record out the window. We have to do what we do and hope that is enough to win the game."
Cedric Harris leads the Hilltoppers in scoring at 15.2 per game. He also averaged 5.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds..
He has a whole lot of help.
Keene Cockburn is averaging 14.8 points and 7.1 rebounds, followed by Seger Bonifant (14.4), C.J. Hester (14.2 points and a team-best 7.9 rebounds), Shawn Dyer (13.4), Devin Hoehn (13.0) and Wheeling Park product Kelvin Goodwin (13.0).
Wheeling Jesuit (6-7, 4-6 MEC) is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, having not won since beating Concord 100-72 on Jan. 6.
"We just need a win," Sancomb said. "We are close. We have to find a win and this is our next opportunity. Yes, there is added excitement. They are No. 1 in the nation, No. 1 in our conference. No doubt, it's going to be a great atmosphere. The place is going to packed. We just really need to get a win at this point, because I feel like we are real close to turning the corner."
There is precedent for such an upset. After all, the Cardinals beat West Liberty two years ago, 109-99 at the McDonough Center when the Hilltoppers were No.1 in the nation and riding a 23-game winning streak and a 60-game unbeaten conference run.
"We were a different team then, a veteran team," Sancomb said. "We went to the round of 32 in the NCAA Division II tournament. We are a lot younger, but our guys will be ready to play. I will tell them (today), 'play smart, play hard and play together.' "
The fact that it is such a rivalry game, and it has happened in similar circumstances, was not lost on Crutchfield.
"We never really talk about that, but the players certainly feel it," Crutchfield said. "You can talk all you want about it being just another game, but when the players walk out on the court, and the place is packed with over 2,000 in there, you realize that it isn't just another game. It will be loud. We're getting used to having that X on our backs. I think the players embrace that. It will be a great atmosphere for a conference game."