WVC basketball: Walker’s lay-in sends Yellow Jackets past Rams
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Greenbrier East All-State guard Jalen Walker has been waiting for this moment since he ended his career with the Spartans in 2011.
The moment came in a dead sprint from one end of the floor to the other, into heavy traffic and with a reverse layup with 2.8 seconds left to lift West Virginia State to a rough-and-tumble 90-89 victory over Shepherd in a West Virginia Conference showdown at Fleming Hall.
State's reward is a visit to the University of Charleston in less than 48 hours to continue its rivalry at 6 p.m. Saturday at Eddie King Gym.
"I'll enjoy this one tonight," State Coach Bryan Poore said.
The Yellow Jackets (6-7, 4-4 WVC), who boast most of their scoring prowess from inside 10 feet, used their strength and power to their advantage, offsetting five 3-pointers by the Rams, who fell to 5-3 in conference play.
State outscored Shepherd 60-50 in the paint and won 47-40 on the boards. Forward David Ford also had 10 rebounds and finished with 18 points.
"(Our strength) made a big difference tonight," said junior Raymon Austin, who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and a team-high four blocked shots. "We had a lot of heart and muscle down there."
The Rams (8-4, 5-3) countered with guard Brantley Osborne, whose 25-foot 3-pointer with 8.1 seconds left gave Shepherd an 89-88 lead.
Following a timeout, Walker got the ball around State's foul line and went the length of the floor. The 6-foot, 170-pound redshirt freshman navigated the paint to find his way to the winning basket. Walker finished with 12 points and five assists.
"This is a long time coming," Walker said. "I was redshirted last year, then had a hamstring injury earlier this year.
"I was gassed, but I had to get through it. Coach wrote the play up, I was supposed to come off a screen and just push it and just try to get to the rim. It was like a Euro (Eurostep). I got in the lane, did a Euro and went up with the left, and it was a blessing it went in."
The victory ended a three-game losing streak to the Rams, all from last season with two coming at Fleming Hall.
They still couldn't handle Shepherd star Chad Moore, the 6-5, 220-pound forward from Handley, Va. He finished with 21 points, 16 rebounds, 10 steals, five assists and three blocked shots. However, he also shot just 31.8 percent from the floor, well below his 49.7 percent average. In three games against State last year, he had 44 points, 40 rebounds, 10 blocked shots and seven steals.
He also battled foul trouble for much of the second half, and his attempted tip-in with 38 seconds left resulted in a controversial basket interference call. Two minutes earlier, State's Anton Hutchins was whistled for another controversial call - an intentional foul, giving Shepherd two free throws and possession of the ball with State clinging to an 86-83 advantage.
Each team hit 16-of-23 free throws, but as Shepherd fouled late to regain possession, State couldn't put away the Rams. Kendrick Ward, who had a game-high 10 assists, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 26 seconds left, 12 seconds before Hutchins did the same. That set up Osborne's 3-pointer and Walker's game-winning basket.
State had 24 assists, which is almost 15 more than its season average. Walker had five and Hutchins added three.
Despite the victory, it might not have solved the mystery of the Yellow Jackets putting together back-to-back solid performances.
A 78-59 loss at Davis & Elkins on Dec. 15, was followed by a 105-92 win over Glenville State on Jan. 5. West Virginia Wesleyan defeated the Yellow Jackets on Monday before State defeated the Rams.
"Maybe they're woke up now, I don't know," Poore said. "They have to understand in this league, every night's a war. Sometimes in high school and junior college, you get some gimmes. Maybe they don't understand that. You have to bring it every night. Hopefully they learned that."
He'll find out on Saturday night.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.