INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- After the kind of start West Virginia State has had, few could blame Anton Hutchins for being excited after throwing down a monstrous alley-oop dunk to give the Yellow Jackets a six-point lead in the second half.
But coach Bryan Poore and most of the crowd of 281 on hand Thursday in Institute wish he would've picked a more subtle way to celebrate.
Hutchins was hit with a technical foul and his fourth personal foul of the game for saluting a Shepherd defender, necessitating his removal from the game with 18:17 left.
It was too much for a sometimes offensively challenged team to overcome as that lead became a 3-point deficit by the time Hutchins returned with 5:09 left, and the Rams were able to hold off State after that for an 89-83 win.
Hutchins scored a team-best 24 points but was on the floor just 23 minutes, and he was on the bench for that stretch of just over 13 minutes of game time that largely decided the back-and-forth battle.
"Huge - it's huge," Poore said. "Anton is obviously one of our best players and he got his fourth foul, so he's got to sit. I don't want the kid doing it number one, everybody knew it was a great play, so now run back and play defense. Once we can get to that and get to the next play we'll get some place, but until we can cut out all that stuff it's going to be like this. It's going to be up and down - it's going to be a rocky road."
It has been just that thus far for the Yellow Jackets (1-3 overall, 0-3 Mountain East Conference), who have faced maybe the toughest opening stretch in the league.
According to the preseason conference poll, State has played the No. 1, No. 3, and No. 4 teams in the league in its first three contests (West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit and Shepherd) and will see No. 2 in its next game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Fairmont State.
With many new players seeing action, Poore admits it's a tough road to hoe early but he's far from making any excuses.