West Liberty knocks out Drury, 85-75

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The champ is dead.

Seger Bonifant came off the bench to hit 6-of-6 from 3-point range and West Liberty rallied from an 11-point, first-half deficit against defending champion Drury, earning an 85-75 victory in an NCAA Division II men’s basketball national quarterfinal Wednesday night at the Ford Center.

The Hilltoppers (30-3) face the Chico State/USC-Aiken winner at 9:30 p.m. tonight in the D-II Final Four, with a berth in Saturday’s championship game on the line.

“I thought we got better as the game went on,” said West Liberty head coach Jim Crutchfield, whose team won its 30th game for a fourth straight season. “In the second half, I thought the key was a few turnovers in the backcourt from our pressure.

“We kind of got a little rally going and when those turnovers turn into buckets and Seger makes a bunch of 3s, that makes a difference.”

Did it ever!

West Liberty eventually tied the game right before halftime with an 11-0 run that concluded with former Parkersburg High cager Devin Hoehn knocking in a 3-pointer to make it 32-32. The Panthers, though, did ake a two-point lead into the locker room, but the seed has been planted.

“When we were preparing for them, in our opinion, they play the game in two or three-minute segments,” Drury head coach Steve Hesser said. “In the first half, we had an 11-point game and then they had a two or three-minute segment and were right back in the game.

“The second half there was a time there when it was going back and forth, but they had a segment where a young man comes off the bench and makes 6-of-6 from 3 and you have to give him credit.”

The Hilltoppers withstood not only every punch the Panthers threw, but also considerable foul issues. Zak Kirkbride fouled out in just 13 minutes of action and Atlantic Region Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-America point guard Cedric Harris was whistled for his fourth personal with more than 13 minutes remaining – just when both he and his team finally seemed to be getting the game to their liking.

“I was a little frustrated, but with the teammates that are behind me, the guys that come in are just as good as me,” Harris said. “Coach said he was going to put me back in with nine minutes left whether I had my fourth foul or not.

“I wasn’t really worried about it, but I was frustrated.”

The numbers back up Harris’ claim. West Liberty’s bench outscored Drury’s by an astounding 52-6 margin, led by a game high-tying 20 from Bonifant.