West Virginia State's David Ford (left) battles Shepherd's Logan Holloman for a loose ball.
INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- When his West Virginia State team needed him to go 94 feet to snatch a victory Thursday night, Jalen Walker's hamstring didn't let him down.That was a refreshing change for the 5-foot-9 freshman from Lewisburg, and an even more refreshing change for the Yellow Jackets, who used Walker's pain-free legs to steal a 90-89 win over Shepherd.With the Yellow Jackets inbounding the ball after the Rams seized the lead with 8.1 seconds left, Walker took the ball the length of the court. When he finished zigging and zagging around two screens, he scored on a reverse layup with 2.8 seconds left. The Rams (8-4, 5-3) didn't get a good shot off at the buzzer.As State coach Bryan Poore tells it, the play went pretty much according to plan."He's so quick, so I wanted him to attack the rim. I wanted to get him on the move with the ball," Poore said. "Set a screen to get him running with the ball up the court, and then we set another ball screen around halfcourt, to free him up against whoever was guarding him there, and then let him attack the rim with big Ray [Raymon Austin] trailing in, so if he missed, maybe Ray gets the rebound."At that point, you hate to see the game come down to one play all the time, because you win some and you lose some. I feel bad for Shepherd, because they made one hell of a 3 to go up one."That the Rams did, punctuating a rally with a cold-blooded 22-footer by Brantley Osborne. State (6-7, 4-4) led 69-56 halfway through the second half, but Chad Moore (21 points, 16 rebounds, 10 steals) led the Rams back in a relative hurry.The Rams had a chance to take the lead with 2:23 left when State's Anton Hutchins was called for an intentional foul in the backcourt, as his team was struggling against the press. Osborne hit two free throws to cut the State lead to 86-85, but both teams fell into a brief period of tightness-induced ineptitude.Amid all that, Hutchins stretched State's lead with a strong drive down the left side, and Moore hit one of two free throws to make it 88-86 with 1:05 left. The Jackets propped open the door with two front-end misses on the one-and-one, setting up the fateful exchange of baskets.
Walker, who finished with 12 points and five assists in 35 minutes, is just happy to be able to go end line to end line at 100 percent. He also was happy to recover from a near fumble around the halfcourt screen."I pulled my hamstring and I was out, I think, eight or nine games," Walker said. "Off and on, I tried to practice, really frustrating. I was trying to get back in sync. It was my third game back, and I finally got my wind back."State countered Moore's triple-double with a pair of double-doubles - Austin had 26 points and 10 rebounds and David Ford had 18 points and 10 boards. Hutchins added 20 points, though he suffered eight turnovers.State won the rebounding battle 47-40, though Shepherd narrowed that with 16 offensive rebounds in the second half. The Rams turned the Jackets over 26 times, leading to 27 points.Coming off a 70-59 loss to West Virginia Wesleyan on Monday, and facing road tests against the University of Charleston and Fairmont State, the Yellow Jackets really needed the win. Being 2-1 since the holiday break has eased the pain of a 4-6 start."First semester we were playing undermanned with some injuries and all that. That really hurts you," Poore said. "And we're still trying to find ourselves and grow, and develop that chemistry, which we don't have solid yet. So we're still kind of a work in progress."
The Jackets battle UC at 6 p.m. Saturday at Eddie King Gym.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.