Third time the toughest
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.
"He just controls their team so well,'' said Poore. "We had a little bit of luck when he was out, but once they put him in, he took control again. It's really tough to speed him up and get him into mistakes.''
Said Downey, "Terrell made some really big plays. He bailed us out early in the first half. Every time [State] made a shot, he would turn around and make a tough play and make a shot. So he was really good. He and Evan Faulkner have been really good.''
Faulkner, UC's other guard, added 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and Robbie Dreher contributed 17 points, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts. Quincy Washington came off the bench to score 11 points and lead his team with six rebounds but drew his coach's ire by picking up a technical for hanging on the rim after a dunk.
"We made some stupid mistakes,'' said Downey.
It was the second straight year that State lost its opening-round tournament game but reached the tourney finals in five of the previous eight years. State started two freshmen, two juniors and a senior.
Anton Hutchins hit 7-of-11 from the floor and led the Jackets with 20 points, senior David Ford had 18 on 8-of-12 shooting and Jalen Walker added 15.
Reach Mike Whiteford at email@example.com.