EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Early in the year, West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield remembers overhearing a reporter ask senior guard Cedric Harris if the Hilltoppers were good enough to win an NCAA Division II national championship.
That was in November.
But as far as Crutchfield was concerned, it was too early to talk about titles, even if West Liberty had established itself as a powerhouse, appearing in the Elite Eight the previous three seasons, including two trips to the final four.
“[Harris] was asked after our first conference game, and I turned around and said, ‘Timeout, don’t answer that question,’” Crutchfield said. “Maybe the reporter knew more than I did, but at the time it wasn’t in our thoughts. We have focused only on the day in front of us all season.”
Today, the only day in front of the Hilltoppers is today, when they’ll face No. 20 Central Missouri for the Division II national championship at the Ford Center. Tipoff is at 2 p.m., and the game will be aired nationally on CBS.
Maybe the seventh-ranked Hilltoppers (31-3) didn’t talk about winning a championship each day, but it was in the back of their minds.
Harris, the senior All-America guard who is averaging nearly 18 points for the Hilltoppers, said he and his teammates always believed it was possible to contend for a title.
It was a different story to the outsiders, although it was easy to doubt West Liberty, considering it lost three seniors to graduation, including All-American Alex Falk.
“No one really believed in us,” Harris said. “We have played with a chip on our shoulder, and that has helped us. We believe in each other, and we are all in it for one goal, and that is to win a national championship.”
West Liberty defeated South Carolina-Aiken 86-83 Thursday night to advance to the championship game for the first time in program history. Central Missouri is making its first trip to the title game since 1984 after stunning top-ranked Metro State 71-69 in Thursday’s other semifinal.
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West Liberty plays for national title today