CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The schedule called for the University of Charleston to open Mountain East Conference play against the league's three top-rated teams.
A month ago, the prospect of early-season tests against West Liberty, Fairmont State and Wheeling Jesuit probably did not bode well for a UC team tinkering with a restructured roster and a first-year coach.
But the Golden Eagles have adapted nicely. Although they squandered nearly all of an 11-point lead Thursday night, they made enough plays down the stretch - most notably Denzel Douglas' steal with 10 seconds left - to slip past Fairmont 75-71 at Eddie King Gym. A crowd of about 600 attended.
Afterward, first-year coach Dwaine Osborne seemed especially pleased that school president Ed Welch entered the locker room and offered unsolicited praise.
"Dr. Welch said he thought it's been awhile since he's seen the unselfishness and the fight and the culmination of all those things,'' said Osborne. "I don't know. I haven't been here.''
The Golden Eagles (5-1, 2-1) now own a double-overtime road victory over Wheeling Jesuit, the team voted third in the coaches' preseason poll, as well as Thursday's nail-biter over the Falcons, who were No. 2 in the poll. In their MEC opener, the Golden Eagles played competitively against No. 1 West Liberty at home, rallying to within six points in the second half, but lost 89-76.
"The thing I love about this team,'' said Osborne, "is that their effort is great. I never have to worry about that. And I never have to worry about whether we're going to be selfish. I think we play well together.''
Against the Falcons, however, the victory nearly slipped away. On three occasions in the second half, UC led by 11 points, the latest a 66-55 advantage on Denio Chirindja's layup, assisted by Tino diTrapano, with 5:03 left in the game.
But the Falcons (4-2, 1-2), who defeated UC in Eddie King Gym last year, cut the deficit to 73-70 on Caleb Davis' basket with 32 seconds left. And after Fairmont stole a pass, the Falcons' Ke'Chaun Lewis drew a foul and made 1 of 2, cutting the Golden Eagles' lead to 73-71 with 26 seconds left.