INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- On the surface, West Virginia State's 113-74 loss to West Liberty Thursday night in Institute was an improvement, at least in comparison to a 60-point drubbing the Yellow Jackets were handed by the Hilltoppers back in December.
Under the surface, though, State coach Bryan Poore was seething.
"They're a very smart basketball team, and they play together," Poore said of the Hilltoppers, who improved to 19-1 overall, 13-1 in the West Virginia Conference and are ranked No. 3 in the nation in NCAA Division II. "They are a team."
Then he pointed to the closed door of his own locker room, to the team that is now 7-13 overall, 5-10 in the WVC and losers of five of their last six games.
"Those guys in there right now are not a team, and that's the difference between us and [West Liberty]," Poore said. "These guys don't get along with each other, and until they can become a team, I can't do anything. I can't call any plays if they don't play together. That's exactly what's wrong with us."
To be fair to the Jackets, West Liberty put on another exhibition of its season-long clinic Thursday. The Hilltoppers' trademark pressure defense, great ball movement and 3-point barrage were all on display at Fleming Hall.
West Liberty connected on 16 3-pointers (compared to just one for State), had assists on 35 of its 44 field goals (State had just three assists on 24 field goals) and forced the Yellow Jackets into 26 turnovers (West Lib committed 10).
The Hilltoppers defeated State 119-59 at West Liberty on Dec. 4, but coach Jim Crutchfield said his team played a better game against the Jackets this time around.
"I knew there was absolutely no way that could happen again," Crutchfield said of the earlier blowout. "I think things kind of snowballed on [State] up there. But I thought we played a better game tonight than we did the first time."
State trailed by just one point, 8-7, three minutes into the game, then West Liberty blew down the doors with a 15-0 run that set the tone for the rest of the night. From the 17-minute mark of the first half until the 7:31 mark - a span of 91/2 minute, or nearly a quarter of the contest - the Yellow Jackets did not score a field goal.
That drought ended when Anton Hutchins, who finished with a team-high 24 points for State, hit a floater in the lane.