Unplugging West Liberty gives UC program a jolt
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- University of Charleston coach Mark Downey has always been able to network.
He's been able to network his way through the coaching maze. He's been able to network in order to land players.
His hope now is through that networking, he's plugged in the right players to short-circuit West Virginia Conference and national power West Liberty.
At least for a night, that hope was reality. At a packed Eddie King gym, UC downed the Hilltoppers, No. 1 in the Division II National Association of Basketball Coaches poll, 101-96.
"We're trying to get where they're at," Downey said Monday. "We're trying to do what we did at Arkansas Tech. I think we're kind of on track."
At Arkansas Tech, Downey led the Wonder Boys to a 30-2 record in 2009-10 and a No. 1 South region ranking before being upset in the Division II South regional tournament.
Now his Golden Eagle team is 12-2 with a win over No. 1.
"We want to get into the Top 25 and be a regular staple in the Top 25," Downey said. "It's just tough to get into the rankings. Without [Terrell] Lipkins and [Robbie] Dreher we lost in overtime at Shepherd. We started off 5-2 and it's hard to get into the rankings after that."
Now, though, UC has won seven straight.
Lipkins, a former Northland [Minn.] Community College player who once scored 47 points in a game there, scored 20 on Monday. He missed that Shepherd game for family matters in Canton, Ohio, but has been lights out since, averaging over 18 points before Monday.
Dreher, a transfer from Winthrop who then enrolled at Marshall before moving to UC, has been averaging 10 points since becoming eligible. He hit the game-sealing free throws versus West Liberty and finished with 21.
"We want to get into the Top 25 and then into the NCAA tournament again," Downey said. "And we only have one senior [Evan Faulkner]. We do have a lot of juniors, but the future's bright.
"West Liberty went through a process. We're going through a process."
If it sounds as if UC is trying to manufacture victories through junior college players and transfers, well, that's correct - to a degree.
Dreher is from Winthrop, Faulkner is from Radford, Xavier Humphrey is from Marshall, Aleksander Kesic is from Iona - by way of Serbia - and the list goes on. Hayden Arnett is from Portland. Portland, Australia, that is. And community college transfers? There are less CC's in emergency rooms than after Golden Eagle roster names.
Yet Downey is very happy with the results.
"We had 13 players on scholarship who were in town over the [Christmas] break," said the coach. "They went out to eat together a lot and all I heard back was how polite and great they were. They're doing well in the classroom. We're doing things the right way."
Downey's overall game plan?
"We try to bring in a mix," said the coach. "We try to recruit locally, if there are kids who can help us, which, sometimes there aren't. But we try to recruit locally. We have a junior varsity team and try to look for players that fly under the radar.
"As for transfers, [former WVU player] Paul Williamson didn't work out, but most are panning out. What we try to do is sign a freshman or two, a junior college player or two and a Division I transfer or two. We had more transfers this year, but we want to spread out the classes in the future and always have kids with experience."
Last week, UC routed West Virginia State, which had dominated in these parts, 92-56. The torch has apparently been passed.
"That win against West Virginia State really gave us confidence," Lipkins said.
Monday's victory should as well. West Liberty is very well-coached. It is very disciplined. Its sharp shooters know exactly where their teammates are during frenetic games.
"We tried to contain [West Liberty] and give them no easy baskets," Lipkins said. "This proves that everyone can be beaten."
It should also prove UC is finally ready to take that next step, into the NCAA Division II Top 25.
"I'd love to be No. 1, but I'll take Top 25," Lipkins said.
Short-circuiting West Liberty is the first step toward that goal.