CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mark Downey's University of Charleston team might have gotten a better shot at a game-winning basket in the waning seconds Thursday night if it had played tougher the previous 39-plus minutes.
Ultimately, UC's chances to snatch victory from Wheeling Jesuit rested on a rushed 3-point attempt by Evan Faulkner, which clanged away at the buzzer. That allowed the Cardinals to escape with a 68-67 victory at Eddie King Gym.
The Golden Eagles were handed their second loss in a row after a then-monumental win over West Liberty. Now, Downey's team looks like any ordinary West Virginia Conference program.
But not as tough.
There's a good reason why Faulkner didn't get such a good shot at the end. UC forced the Cardinals' Ben Siefert into a miss with about 8 seconds left, and opted to push the ball upcourt for the final shot. The problem for the Eagles: Wheeling had committed only eight fouls.
Not for the second half, but for the entire game. For the half, the Cardinals had two fouls to give, and would happily have hacked any Eagle in their path, forcing a stoppage and an inbounds pass.
Therefore, the Eagles had to cleanly avoid all defenders to get anything to the rim, and that's why Faulkner's shot wasn't the best look.
"They were going to foul us, so we had to play keepaway to get the ball down the court," Downey said. "So I'm yelling at Evan, 'Get a shot, because they're going to foul you, get a shot.' Instead of getting to the rim like I wanted to, we had to settle for a 3 just because they're running at us to foul us."
Sure, Downey could have used a timeout to set up a play, but that would only give the Cardinals a better chance to use those two fouls.
"I thought it was smart that they didn't call a timeout," said Wheeling coach Danny Sancomb. "They pushed it up there and they got a shot with their best 3-point shooter."
But not the best shot. And the Eagles, other than Terrell Lipkins and Quincy Washington, weren't getting the best shots against the Cardinals' zone. For the second game in a row, they weren't driving to the basket with the same fervor as they did 10 days earlier in the 101-96 win over West Liberty, then No. 1 in NCAA Division II.
Lipkins, who was limited to nine minutes in UC's 64-58 loss Monday to Seton Hill, fired in 30 points, hitting 8 of 13 from 3-point range. Washington added 16 points, but the scoring fell off after that.