Malik Alvin had 28 points and Tony Smith had 19, but it wasn’t enough as #7 Shaw fell to #3 West Liberty in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Final held at the ASRC on the campus of West Liberty.
The Bears conclude their season with a 27-4 mark, having gone deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any team at Shaw since the 2001-2002 season. West Liberty, 32-2, now advances to the Elite Eight being held at Highland Heights, KY.
Shaw held West Liberty’s high-powered offense to only 89 points. The Hilltoppers average over 103 points per game and have hit triple digits in 20 of their contests this season. But the Bears could not answer WLU’s ten-point run early in the second half.
“We’re somewhat similar teams in that we’re very spurt-y,” said Shaw head coach Cleo Hill, Jr. “Their spurts are different because they’ll go for a three and we tend to look inside first. We had a spurt to close the first half and take the lead, but after they took the lead in the second, we never had a second spurt.”
The Hilltoppers shot 45.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 52.5 from the field as a whole. The Bears, who average over 50 percent from the field, hit only 42.9 percent of their shots, and hit only four of 13 from beyond the arc.
“They really did have a home court advantage,” said Hill. “Not only was the crowd behind them, but they had a lot of bounces fall their way.”
The Bears did outrebound WLU 42-35, but it was West Liberty’s Keene Cockburn who controlled the airspace above the rim with six blocks, compared to Shaw’s four.
Shaw actually quieted the raucous home crowd early in the game when they broke on top to an 8-3 lead in the first 90 seconds of play. WLU answered with five straight to tie. With the score tied at 10, the Hilltoppers had a 12-2 spurt, building a 22-12 lead with 14:34 left in the first and bringing the crowd back into the game.
Alvin then scored eight straight points to trim that lead to only two. The Hilltoppers answered with seven straight points, rebuilding their lead to nine.
With 5:18 left in the first and with the score 40-31 in favor of WLU, Junius Chaney hit a layup that started a 12-2 run for Shaw, and took them into the locker room at the half with a 43-42 lead.
The Bears managed to hold their lead the first three minutes of the second half. With 16:30 left in the game, Alvin hit a layup that gave the Bears a 51-47 lead.
WLU’s Cedric Harris – the tournament MVP – hit a jumper to trim the Shaw lead to two and after a Tim Hausfeld steal, Alex Falk hit a three from well beyond the arc to give the Hilltoppers a 52-51 lead. Shaw would never regain the lead.
By the 12:59 mark, WLU had extended their lead to ten after a pair of threes from C.J. Hester. With 5:35 left on the clock, Alvin made an old-fashioned three-point play, cutting the Hilltopper lead to three. WLU responded with another scoring run – this one for six points – and put the game out of reach.
Smith and Chaney both had double-doubles on the night. Smith coupled his 19 points with 12 rebounds while Chaney had 13 points and ten rebounds. Derrick Hunter led the Bears with three assists.
Harris finished the game with 26 points and eight assists. Hester had 16, Falk had 14 and Hausfeld added another 13. Hester had ten rebounds for a double-double Harris had eight assists to lead the Hilltoppers.
Joining Harris on the All-Tournament Team were Falk and Hester from WLU and Alvin and Karron Johnson from Shaw.