UC's Brandon Ross floats a one-handed shot over Shepherd defender Justin Bryan.
A sluggish loss at Wheeling Jesuit on Thursday night prompted University of Charleston coach Mark Downey to rethink his practice plans for Friday.Instead of the customary on-the-court stuff, Downey decided his Golden Eagles would be better served with some good conversation.And so they spent their practice time talking."It got a little emotional,'' said UC forward P.J. Reyes. "We told each other to play every game like it's our last.''Whatever else they said in that meeting on Friday apparently carried over into a 75-47 rout of Shepherd on Saturday afternoon at Eddie King Gym, contributing to what Downey described as probably the team's best performance in his two seasons as coach. A crowd of about 400 attended."It's great to play great one time,'' said Downey. "We want to get some consistency. We have to build off this and continue to do it.''When one of the Golden Eagles suggested to Downey that it was the team's best effort in the last two seasons, the coach didn't disagree.
"Like Marco Richardson said,'' said Downey, referring to the 6-5 senior guard, "that was the maybe the best we've played in a couple years. Everybody was firing on all cylinders. We made shots, we shared the ball and that was by far the best we've guarded in two years.''The Golden Eagles (12-4, 7-3) look rejuvenated almost from the opening tip. In hurrying out to a 33-16 halftime advantage, they allowed the Rams (8-7, 6-5) to hit only 5-of-25 shots in the first 20 minutes and built the lead to 57-26 midway through the second half.The 6-foot-3 Reyes, a South Alabama transfer who entered the game with a team-leading 20.1 scoring average, led the way with 24 points, including a midcourt 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer and a basket in which he bounced the ball off the backboard, giving himself an easy followup.
Evan Faulkner, a Radford transfer, added 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point distance. Xavier Humphrey, a Marshall transfer, came off the bench to contribute 10 points. Downey used 10 players in the first half, and eventually all 14 saw action."They've got a lot of talented players,'' said Shepherd coach Justin Namolik. "I thought they really played to their strengths. They pressured us defensively. They got out in transition and scored. Faulkner and Reyes were hitting 3s.''It stands to reason that UC, a mix of transfers and other first-year players, should improve substantially as the team gains continuity. "We have a lot of guys that haven't played a lot of basketball in a couple years,'' said Downey. "P.J. Reyes sat out last year, Xavier Humphrey and Noah [Fischer] were walk-ons at Marshall and didn't play very much. Eladio Espinosa's been out for two years. He was redshirted and then he got hurt and sat out and only played eight games. With all those new guys not playing very much and now being key figures in our program, it's taken awhile.''The Golden Eagles' hot start to the season may have been misleading, the coach added, but things finally may be falling into place.
"We started the year 6-0 and had some really good wins, and people started to say Charleston this and Charleston that,'' he said. "We got a high rating in the coaches' preseason poll. It was a little bit too much early. I didn't think we deserved it. When we lost to West Liberty and lost to A-B, I thought this team had a long way to go, and we still do, but we're going in the right direction.''He also believes Friday's meeting was a productive one."We didn't practice much but talked a lot,'' he said. "We went through everybody's roles and defined their roles. Today, they came out and did what they said they were going to do at that meeting.''UC will play host to West Virginia State at 8 p.m. Tuesday.Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org