MEC tournament: W.Va. State follows Hutchins' lead
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a way, the resurgence of the West Virginia State University men's basketball team can be attributed to the water emergency that gripped 300,000 state residents in nine counties beginning on Jan. 9.
Games early in the season had to be switched, allowing State to play five straight home games to finish the inaugural regular season in the Mountain East Conference.
Much of the credit, however, goes to Anton Hutchins, a senior who has found himself in a better place.
Hutchins and the Yellow Jackets (13-13) will play in the first round of the MEC Tournament at 7 p.m. today at the D. Stephen and Diane H. Walker Convocation Center against Notre Dame (10-18).
State avoided a second consecutive regular season under .500 with a 78-74 win over University of Charleston in the first men's game in the new facility on Saturday.
Hutchins, who was at the top of the MEC scoring leaders earlier this season, had 19 points in State's win.
The victory extended State's winning streak to five games - all at home - and came in front of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell and the NBA's first African-American player, Earl Lloyd.
"It's very big," Hutchins said. "Our school has so much history. Earl Lloyd is the first African-American player in the NBA, so it's very big. Anytime you have legends in the house like Earl Lloyd, and Bill Russell spoke to us, Oscar Robertson, you just want to play hard.
"You look up to those guys, so you pay homage."
It went deeper personally for Hutchins, who is in his second season with the Yellow Jackets.
He arrived at State as a junior college transfer from Cincinnati State who averaged a team-leading 15.5 points in his first season in Institute.
Expected to shoulder much of the scoring load this season, he opened the campaign at the top of the MEC scoring ranks but couldn't maintain the pace.
As State struggled early with four losses in their first five games, so struggled Hutchins off the court.
His grandmother, Emma Taylor, was seriously ill.
He had an outburst after an early season game and had his playing time limited in many games. He didn't make the trip with the team to Fairmont State on Dec. 7.
"It's been hard," said Hutchins, who admits his emotions have been hard to control. "But my teammates have my back. Anytime I'm out on that court, that's my sanctuary.
"I just want to win out so that I can go see her soon."
Hutchins played in 24 of State's 26 games this season with 19 starts. His season average is 25.6 minutes per game, but was averaging 19.3 during the winning streak before his 34 minutes on Saturday.
Hutchins is second on the team in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (5.7).
Leading the way for State is guard Bo King, whose 19 points per game is tied for fourth in the MEC.
Point guard Dominic Phillips is third on the team in scoring with 14.3 points, and the Yellow Jackets will need all they can get.
In the last meeting against Notre Dame, State eked out a 101-99 verdict. In that game, Notre Dame's 5-foot-7 guard Tyree Gaiter had a league- and career-high 44 points.
The winner advances to face No. 1 West Liberty at 6 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center.
FIFTH-SEEDED W.Va. Wesleyan (19-11) faces No. 12 Urbana (0-26) at Buckhannon with the winner to face No. 4 Fairmont State (19-9) in Friday's quarterfinals.
Coach Pat Beilein's Bobcats defeated the Blue Knights 76-62 on Feb. 15 at Urbana.
T.J. Thompson leads the way for Wesleyan with 16.5 points per game.
Urbana has lost 31 consecutive games, not winning since Valentine's Day 2013, a 98-81 victory over Salem International.
WHEELING JESUIT (14-12) will try to end a four-game losing streak when the seventh-seeded Cardinals face No. 10 UVa-Wise (11-15) at the McDonough Center.
Wheeling Jesuit has had winning streaks of eight and four games, and losing streaks of five and four games.
Coach Danny Sancomb's Cardinals are led by Justin Fritts and Eric Siefert, who averaged 17.8 and 16.9 points per game respectively.
Deon Boyce is the main threat for the Cavaliers, averaging 17.3 points and 15 rebounds per game.
The winner faces No. 2 Charleston (18-8) in Friday's quarterfinals at noon.
SHEPHERD WILL host No. 11 Concord (8-20) at Shepherdstown in the other first round game on campus.
The sixth-seeded Rams (19-9) are on a two-game losing streak but have not lost three in a row this season. They have five double-figure scorers, led by Brantley Osborne at 19 points per game.
Coach Kent McBride's Mountain Lions have lost 17 of 20 games. Mike Boyd averages 14 points per game for Concord.
The winner gets No. 3 Glenville (17-9) in Friday's quarterfinals at 2:15 p.m.