MEC basketball: W.Va. State opens season with a win
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia State University men's basketball team didn't exactly make a lasting impression on the newly-named Coach Mark Cardwell Court inside Fleming Hall.
Still, the memory of the night won't include a loss to open the 2013-14 campaign.
The Yellow Jackets' season opener featured 28 points from Anton Hutchins and a Juan Johnson putback with 45 seconds left that lifted State to an 86-83 victory over Bluefield State College during a battle of former West Virginia Conference members on Wednesday night.
Shortly after a ceremony that named the Fleming Hall floor in honor of State alumnus and former coach Mark Cardwell, the Yellow Jackets (1-0) fought an uphill battle against a winless, but game Bluefield team.
Thanks to Hutchins - one of only three returning players from State's disappointing 10-19 team last year - the Yellow Jackets survived the Big Blues (0-4), 25 rebounds from forward Samuel Ouedraogo, 20 of their own turnovers and some sloppy play to give Coach Bryan Poore his 268th career victory.
"It's a lot of new faces," said Hutchins, who averaged 15.5 points last season. "It's not easy to adjust. A lot of our guys are young, and they played good."
State trailed most of the contest, but it received a spark from junior Anthony Grant, a transfer from Lackawanna Community College, and 6-foot-8 true freshman Terry Wood.
Grant had one point and just two rebounds in eight minutes, but Poore said his energy gave the Jackets a spark. Wood, a bullish figure inside, hit a 3-pointer to cut a Bluefield lead to 69-63 with 6:50 left, and added a putback on State's next possession to trim the advantage to just four 35 seconds later.
While it appeared that Hutchins and new guard Dominic Phillips (22 points, 8 rebounds) were doing all the work, they were getting some help.
"Anthony Grant is who lifted us," Poore said. "He's the guy who came in and gave us some energy, lifted us back up. Kudos to him. Maybe I'm stupid ... give him more minutes."
The Yellow Jackets struggled to keep Ouedraogo off the boards. The junior from Burkino Faso, Africa, had 25 boards, but could convert just 12 offensive rebounds into 10 points.
Following a spirited halftime talk from Poore, the Yellow Jackets responded.
"That's what happens when you have three guys that played last year," Poore said. "It's still a work in progress. That's what I told them. We won, but we're nowhere close to where we need to be."
Wood finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Although State was beaten on the boards 55-48, the Yellow Jackets appeared to play with more spirit in the second half when they outscored the Big Blues 47-39.
"(Coach) kind of snapped in the locker room at halftime about how many rebounds (Ouedraogo had)," Hutchins said. "That's unacceptable. We toughen up and get a body on him."
Hutchins was 12-of-22 from the floor to spark a shooting effort from State that resulted in a 51.5-percent showing in the second half. Phillips was 6-of-12. In fact just four players - freshman and former Nitro star Angelo Sirianni (0-3), point guard Demitrios Jelen-Joy (1-5), Rueben Berry (0-6) and Grant (0-3) - shot lower than 50 percent from the floor.
The Big Blues attempted one more shot than State, but was just 28-of-78, compared to 33-of-77 for State. Shakir Dunning and Geron Tate had 18 points each to lead Bluefield. Treon Claiborne, who slashed through the State defense for a one-handed slam in the first half, added 14 points. Remar Brothers had 12 points for the visitors.
"We were kind of sloppy in the first half," Hutchins said. "We just had to keep fighting."
State is back in action on Saturday when the Yellow Jackets play their first Mountain East Conference game at Fleming Hall against Wheeling Jesuit University.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.