CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As byproducts of their winning streak, the University of Charleston players seem eager to spend more time in the gym, and the home crowds are noticeably noisier.
It's also interesting that an opposing coach acknowleges UC's recent transformation.
"I just told our team that [the Golden Eagles] are a completely different basketball team than the one we played in December,'' said Shepherd coach Justin Namolik, referring to the Rams' 15-point home victory over UC on Dec. 8.
Opening the game at a furious pace, the Golden Eagles built a 17-point lead and, despite the Rams' admirable persistence, never allowed the lead slip below 13 points in an 83-64 victory Thursday night at Eddie King Gym.
It was UC's eighth straight victory and, at 10-3 in the Mountain East Conference, the Golden Eagles moved past Shepherd (9-4) and into second place behind West Liberty. In a preseason coaches' poll, UC was picked No. 6.
"Nobody thought we were going to be here,'' said UC senior Xavier Humphrey, who led his team's scoring with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. "And now we're in second place.''
The Eddie King atmosphere also caught Namolik's attention.
"This is a great environment,'' he said. "You have to give the home fans a lot of props, man. This is probably the toughest place we've had to play in this year. The crowd's really into it, and the team fed off of it.''
A crowd of about 700, including a rowdy student section and the school's pep band, attended.
At the outset, UC hit seven of its first eight shots, played in-your-face defense and led 19-2 with 12:25 left in the first half.
"I don't remember them missing a shot,'' Namolik said of the opening blitz.
Shortly thereafter, Shepherd cut the deficit to 23-10 and looked poised to make it a game, but the Golden Eagles responded with another blitz, increasing the advantage to 34-11 with 4:58 left in the half. At halftime, they led 42-25.