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.''