CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a first-round tournament game, it was understandable that the intensity would be heightened and that things would not necessarily play out as they did in the regular season.
And so it was as the University of Charleston found that subduing West Virginia State to be a much greater challenge this time - but did so in a 97-83 victory at Eddie King Gym Tuesday night in a West Virginia Conference tournament opener. A crowd of about 600 attended.
The No. 5 Golden Eagles (19-8), who will face No. 4 Wheeling Jesuit at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center, probably didn't relax until the game's final minutes.
It had been much easier during the season. In January, UC routed the Yellow Jackets by 36 points and led by 32 in the second half Saturday in a 92-75 victory in Institute, but UC coach Mark Downey sensed a more difficult test.
"I knew it would be a totally different game,'' said Downey. "After you beat somebody twice, and we beat 'em pretty good both times, you knew it was going to be totally different. It was a hard game to play just because of the circumstances and having beaten them so bad.''
The No. 12 Yellow Jackets (10-19) shot 54.2 percent in the first half and trailed by just 42-36 at halftime and moved to within 49-45 early in the second half, prompting Downey's displeasure.
"We came out with a lot of effort, but it could have been better,'' said UC guard Terrell Lipkins.
UC finally built a 22-point lead at 79-57 with 8:04 left but again allowed the Jackets to stay competitive. With 3:51 left, UC had still not broken it open, leading 87-73.
"We hung around there and were in there tight,'' said State coach Bryan Poore. "I told 'em in the second half just to chip away and keep it tight and put the pressure on them because they're supposed to win and see what happens.''
But whenever State made a run, Lipkins, a junior college All-American at Northland Community College last year, always seemed to respond. He scored 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting and contributed six assists, five rebounds and two steals. He was 4-of-8 on 3-point tries.