UPJ pulls away, dumps UC 82-72
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It might be that, as University of Charleston coach Mark Downey surmised, his Golden Eagles lack the toughness to handle the tough times.
Or maybe it was simply Pitt Johnstown's night to make the big plays and hit the clutch shots, particularly in the game's waning minutes, as the Mountain Cats pulled away down the stretch to whip UC 82-72 victory Saturday night at Eddie King Gym. A crowd of about 500 attended.
Or perhaps the West Virginia Conference's parity is unusually forbidding this season, making it difficult for anyone other than West Liberty to sustain success.
"It's unreal,'' said Pitt Johnstown coach Bob Rukavina. "We have eight losses in the conference, and every one of them went down to the last minute of the game.''
The Golden Eagles rallied commendably to overcome a 12-point second-half deficit - which surely pleased their coach - and led 62-60 with 5:19 left on two Quincy Washington free throws.
From there, however, UC's play drew the coach's ire.
"We've got some front-runners,'' said Downey. "When things are going really well and we're ahead, we're OK. When things go bad or when I start to get on people, we've got guys who will tuck their tails between their legs. And that's hard to coach.''
In the game's final five minutes, the Mountain Cats (14-8, 10-8) outscored the Golden Eagles 20-8 and limited UC to just two field goals. All the while, said Downey, the Eagles demonstrated a lack of toughness.
"We can't tough it out. We can't tough out games like this,'' he said. "We panicked with three or four minutes to go in the game when they got up five or six. We gave 'em easy shots. We don't have guys who attack the ball. We just don't win loose balls. We don't do the hard things. We don't do the tough things. It's crazy. I've always prided myself on my teams doing that, and this team doesn't. And we work on it. We do drills in practice that are insane - diving on the floor, taking charges. To [UPJ's] credit, they've got a lot of experience. Those guys have been around for a long time.''
Said Rukavina, "What I like is that after Charleston took the lead, we fought back and ended up winning. We had some adversity, and we got through it for the first time this year.''
UC, it seems, is still feeling the remnants of its late-January skid in which it lost three of four games in a 10-day stretch. The skid followed a 101-96 victory on Jan. 14 over unbeaten West Liberty, the No. 1-ranked team in Division II at the time.
Since that victory, UC has lost four of seven and, with an 11-6 WVC record and a 15-6 overall mark, is in danger of slipping out of contention for an NCAA at-large bid.
"That was an NCAA tournament game for us,'' said Downey. "It just killed us. It's going to be tough to be an at-large team. Maybe if we win out, but we've got to go to Wheeling Jesuit and West Lib. And we can't win at home right now.''
UC plays at West Liberty on Monday and visits Wheeling Jesuit Feb. 21.
Pitt Johnstown senior guard Nick Novak, who entered the game with a WVC-leading 21.8 scoring average, hit nine of his first 10 shots and finished with 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Guard Jordan Miller added 23 points, hitting 5-of-10 3-point tries, and Bill Luther and Ian Vescovi added 10 points each. The Mountain Cats had just nine turnovers; UC committed 15.
Evan Faulkner and Terrell Lipkins led UC with 14 points each, Washington came off the bench to contribute 13 and Xavier Humphrey had 11.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.