West Liberty vs. Black Hills State in NCAA Semifinal Today
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – It’s Semifinal Thursday at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight and the No. 5-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team is one win away from playing for a national championship at the palatial Ford Center in the heart of downtown Evansville.
Coach Ben Howlett’s No. 2-seeded Hilltoppers (32-3) have a significant hurdle to clear in order to get to Saturday’s national championship game as they open this afternoon’s semifinal doubleheader by taking on third-seeded and No. 21-ranked Black Hills State, S.D. (29-5) in a 2 p.m. (EDT) tilt. They’ll be followed onto the Ford Center hardwood by No. 4-seed Cal State-San Bernardino (31-3) and top-seeded Nova Southeastern, Fla. (34-0) in the 4:30 p.m. semifinal.
Today’s semifinal doubleheader will be televised live on CBS Sports Network (Channel 274 on Comcast/Xfinity). Saturday’s NCAA Division II national championship game will be a live 2 p.m. telecast carried on CBS stations from coast-to-coast as part of that network’s March Madness coverage.
West Liberty and Black Hills State each punched their tickets to today’s semifinal in impressive fashion on Tuesday, racing away to convincing victories over their quarterfinal foes.
The Hilltoppers overwhelmed East Region champion New Haven from the opening tip, bolting out to a 24-4 lead against the No. 7-seeded Chargers midway through the first half on their way to a 95-58 blowout win, one of the largest margins of victory in Elite Eight history. The Yellow Jackets used a 14-0 run late in the first half of their quarterfinal against Central Region champion Minnesota-Duluth to take command and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way in coasting to an 86-68 victory.
“They’re a really, really good basketball team,” Howlett said following West Liberty’s Wednesday afternoon practice session at the Ford Center. “They have the (NCAA D2) National Player of the Year in Joel Scott. He’s a 6-7 or 6-8 guy who can do a little bit of everything and they surround him with an All-Region guard and several veteran players. We will definitely have our hands full.”
Don’t expect Black Hills State to shy away from the national spotlight this afternoon. They made their first-ever NCAA Division II tournament appearance a year ago and knocked off previously-unbeaten Nova Southeastern in their quarterfinal debut. After sweeping their way to the South Central regional crown once again last week, the Yellow Jackets have a sparkling 8-1 record in NCAA Tournament play.
Scott (22.8 ppg., 9.5 rpg.) is the leading scorer in school history with 2,427 career points and is just 17 rebounds away from the 1,000-rebound milestone but he’s far from the only weapon in the BHSU arsenal.
Matthew Ragsdale (13.6 ppg., 2.6 rpg.) is a 6-4 transfer from Western Colorado who had five 3-pointers and a game-high 25 points in the win against Minnesota-Duluth on Tuesday. He’s made 277 3-point shots in his career with 86 of them coming this season. Rounding out the rangy starting lineup for Black Hills State are 6-3 grad student Sindou Cisse (8.4 ppg., 4.2 rpg.), 6-4 sophomore Caelin Hearne (5.6 ppg., 1.9 rpg.) and 6-6 junior P.J. Hayes (10.7 ppg., 4.8 rpg.).
Playing in their 14th straight NCAA Tournament and seventh Elite Eight, the Hilltoppers are making their fifth appearance in a national semifinal. All-American Bryce Butler (22.3 ppg., 7.6 rpg.) leads a veteran lineup featuring five double-figure scorers, four of whom have already topped the 1,000-point mark at the collegiate level.
Joining Butler in WLU’s “first five” are 6-3 senior guard Malik McKinney (11.9 ppg., 2.5 rpg.), 6-1 junior guard Christian Montague (12.0 ppg., 72 3FGs), 6-1 grad student guard Steve Cannady (10.8 ppg., 54 3FGs) and 6-6 sophomore forward Ben Sarson (10.6 ppg., 62 3FGs). West Liberty also gets significant contributions from a number of players off the bench, including but not limited to 6-1 sophomore guard Zach Rasile (9.3 ppg., 82 3FGs), 6-4 junior guard Alek West (6.5 ppg., 25 3FGs), 6-8 junior post Chaz Hinds (6.0 ppg., 34 3FGs), 6-7 freshman post Fin Woodward (3.7 ppg., 2.2 rpg.) and 6-0 redshirt freshman guard Dante Spadafora (2.7 ppg., 17 3FGs).
The Hilltoppers – 33-13 all-time in NCAA Tournament play – are trying to advance to the national championship game for the first time since the 2014 Elite Eight team fell to Central Missouri by an 84-77 count.