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WVC basketball: Downey, UC in slump heading to West Liberty

By Greg Pennington

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- University of Charleston's men's basketball Coach Mark Downey isn't accustomed to losing.  

He looked stunned walking out of the locker room Saturday night after the loss to Pitt-Johnstown, 82-72 at Eddie King Gym. Now Downey's Golden Eagles (15-6, 11-6) play at conference powerhouse West Liberty (22-1, 16-1) at 7:30 tonight.   

Downey's near stoic demeanor began cracking under frustration late in the first half.  

The Mountain Cats shot 61 percent from the floor and 60 percent from behind the arc in the first half to build a 10-point halftime lead.  

Downey's calm resolve finally broke with 1:22 left in the half.  

Nick Novak, a 6-foot senior guard, parted the Charleston defense and drove to the basket uncontested for an easy bucket.

Two seconds later Downey was striding onto the court, calling a timeout and raising his right hand in accusation at the five UC players unlucky enough to be on the floor - all at the same time.    

"I've got to act like an idiot to get these guys going," the third-year UC coach said.  

Downey didn't look idiotic in that last time out of the half, he look resolved.

His resolution and coaching experience proved vital in the second half. Led by 6-5 junior Quincy Washington, the Eagles went on a 15-5 run to take the lead 60-58 with 7:33 left in the game.

But Charleston couldn't hang on to the momentum.

"When things start to go bad or I start to get on people - we've got guys that will tuck their heads between their legs and that's hard to coach," Downey said.

With less than 4 minutes left in the game the Cats made their own run.

With 3:32 left, UC guard Terrell Lipkins tried to force a pass on a fast break instead of taking a layup.

The pass was intercepted by Novak, who streaked down the court and made the transition basket while being fouled.

He made the free throw to start a 10-3 run. Novak finished with 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.  

"We panicked with 3-4 minutes left in the game when they got up five or six," Downey said.  

Charleston called a timeout with 1:33 left in the game down by five. Downey implored his team to "be calm" and "be in control."

The Golden Eagles were outscored 8-4 in the final 93 seconds and fell to 3-4 since their Jan. 14 win over then-No. 1 West Liberty. That win was on UC's home floor, where it has lost three of four games since.  

"We don't do the hard things," Downey said. "We don't do the tough things. It's crazy because I've always prided myself on my teams doing that and this team doesn't."

The Hilltoppers have won eight consecutive games by an average of 22.8 points since their loss to UC.

"We're walking into a hurricane on that one," Downey said.  

Since UC handed West Liberty its only defeat, Charleston has lost four of its last seven. The loss to UPJ equaled UC's largest defeat this season.

"They (West Liberty) aren't going to feel sorry for us," Downey said.

When asked about the difference between his team now and the one that beat West Liberty a month ago Downey said: "They played with confidence, they believed, they listened. I'm not doing anything different. This is the same thing I've been doing for seven years as a Division II head coach and guys just aren't accepting it.

"I'm not going to change."


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