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WVC basketball: Early exit for Golden Eagles

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The enigma continues for the University of Charleston men's basketball team.

The enigma is Wheeling Jesuit always finding a way against the Golden Eagles, extending its record to 6-0 against UC since Mark Downey took over in 2010.

A Joe Prati bucket with 16:08 left in the second half started a 12-2 run and the Cardinals continued their dominance over the Golden Eagles with a 72-62 victory in the quarterfinals of the West Virginia Conference tournament Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.

"I know I go home and work harder because I'm 0-5 against Danny, 0-6 now," Downey said. "I find myself at night turning on the computer watching a game, I'm not sure why I'm even watching it. I got done scouting State a day and a half so I scouted Wheeling."

The victory sets up an 8:30 p.m. semifinal showdown today with archrival West Liberty (27-1), the top-ranked team in the National Association of Basketball Coaches' NCAA Division II Top 25 poll.

The loss brings to an end a disappointing season for the Golden Eagles (19-9), who outrebounded the Cardinals 44-28, and had 20 offensive boards to four. Charleston had a 24-4 edge in second-chance points, but it wasn't enough with what Downey saw as a lack of toughness, a couple players quitting and his team not listening.

"My teams in the past have not ... have not underachieved like we did tonight," said Downey, whose 2011-12 team reached the Atlantic Region tournament. "Wheeling did what they were supposed to do. They listened, made tough plays. It's extremely frustrating to have a team that doesn't listen to what you're trying to do. It's not everybody."

Charleston held a one-point lead at halftime, and trailed by only 42-41 when Freshman of the Year Justin Fritts hit a 3-pointer with 15:07 left.

Eric Siefert, younger brother of Wheeling Jesuit all-WVC first-team member Ben Siefert, hit a 3 to push the lead to seven. Two more 3-pointers by Fritts, who was 5-of-6 from long range, gave the Cardinals a 58-46 lead with 9:14 left.

"I didn't feel any pressure," said Fritts, who had a team-high 19 points and added three assists and two steals. "I just block that stuff out. It's a 40-minute basketball game."

He had no trouble dealing with the coliseum background, which is notorious for being difficult to shoot in front of.

"The first thing I noticed was every ball had a little too much air in it," Fritts said. "The big background was a little bit different, but once you get on the floor you block it out."

UC's Robbie Dreher, who had a career-high 13 rebounds, hit a free throw to cut the lead to 66-59 with 2:07 left. But, Fritts had two free throws just 25 seconds later to push it back to nine.

The loss also completed a disappointing end to the season for UC, which is 7-7 since defeating West Liberty 101-96 at Eddie King Gym on Jan. 14.

Xavier Humphrey had 19 points to lead UC, while Terrell Lipkins scored 17. Dreher finished with 10, but the three double-figure scorers for the Golden Eagles shot just 16-of-46 from the field and 6-of-21 from 3-point range.

"Our guys were tough today, which summed up our season," said sixth-year Wheeling Jesuit Coach Danny Sancomb. "There is a stereotype that we're not tough, and we like for people to think that."

The Cardinals (19-9) could be in for a challenge in their quest for a bid in the Atlantic Region. Wheeling Jesuit came into the game ranked 10th.

Wheeling Jesuit has won nine of its last 11 games, with its only losses coming to West Liberty.

It also seems to have Charleston's number, ending the Golden Eagles' season last year in the Atlantic Region, and this year in the WVC quarterfinals.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.

 


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