Eagles shut down
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If Charleston coach Mark Downey stays at UC long enough, the law of averages says the Golden Eagles will eventually beat Wheeling Jesuit at some point.
But in the biggest of spots on Thursday, Downey's winless streak against the Cardinals continued.
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, Jesuit settled into its zone defense that left Charleston without many answers and the Cardinals ran away with a 72-62 win in a West Virginia Conference men's quarterfinal game at the Charleston Civic Center.
Downey is now 0-6 against Wheeling Jesuit in his three-year stint at UC, including a loss in the NCAA Atlantic Region to end the Golden Eagles' season last year.
But fresh wounds bleed the most, and there was no hiding the disappointment stemming from UC's latest shortcoming against the Cardinals.
"I'm not used to this in a wide array of aspects," Downey said. "I'm very disappointed in that effort. My teams in the past have not underachieved like we did tonight. Give credit to Wheeling, those guys are tough, they do what they're supposed to do, they listen, make tough plays, and they do what their game plan says to do. Most teams who win do that and we didn't."
Early, UC had it going downhill and were firing on all cylinders.
Xavier Humphrey scored 11 points and Terrell Lipkins 12 in the first half as Charleston shot a respectable 45.2 percent and built an 11-point lead.
But toward the end of the first half, Jesuit started turning back the tide and trailed by only one point at 37-36.
After the break, the Cardinals stayed hot and UC didn't keep pace, as the Golden Eagles made just 23.5 percent of their shots in the second half.
"I told our guys, 'We just can't turn the ball over and give them second-chance points,' " Wheeling coach Danny Sancomb said. "I preach to our guys about toughness and after [a first-half] timeout we went on a nice run and finished the half. It's our guys. They know what to do out there and our guys are going to continue to fight and battle."
WVC freshman of the year Justin Fritts didn't take long to adjust to playing under the conference's brightest lights.
Fritts finished with a team-best 19 points, including eight straight Jesuit points midway through the second half that pushed the Cardinals' lead briefly to 12, their largest of the game.
"Being freshman of the year, I didn't feel any pressure and I try to block that stuff out," Fritts said. "When it gets down to it, you've got a 40-minute basketball game and we're basically fighting for our lives out there."
The Golden Eagles finished with a 44-28 rebounding advantage and 20-4 in the offensive category, resulting in a 24-4 advantage in second-chance scoring.
But Jesuit made 10 of 19 3-pointers and a crucial 16 of 21 free throws, and UC's inability to find and convert open looks after halftime proved too much to overcome.
The win was Jesuit's third over UC this season, including an 86-80 home win in double overtime just over a week ago that proved eerily similar to Downey.
"That game was a carbon copy of the game at Wheeling," Downey said. "We found a way to get back in it in the last four minutes at Wheeling. Tonight, it was a six- or seven-point game and we had guys lay down and quit."
After a 101-96 win over No. 1 West Liberty on Jan. 14 that moved the Golden Eagles' record to 12-2, UC seemed like a lock to get into the Division II regional again.
But after a 7-7 finish to the season, postseason hopes have gone completely out the window.
Charleston finished with a 19-9 record and loses only one senior next season (Evan Faulkner). As promising as Charleston seems to be, Downey and his squad will have to find some way to get by Wheeling Jesuit sooner or later.
"I wish they would," Downey said when asked if his players might think about his winless mark against the Cardinals. "I know I go home and work harder because I'm 0-5 against Danny - 0-6 now. I find myself at night just turning on the computer to watch a game just to try and figure them out. I got done with the State scout a day and a half before the State game, so I watched Wheeling."
Ben Siefert scored 15 points and had six assists while Eric Siefert scored 15 points and added 10 rebounds for the Cardinals. Joe Prati rounded out Wheeling Jesuit's double-digit scoring with 12 points.
Humphrey finished with 19 points to lead the Golden Eagles (19-9), followed by Lipkins with 17 and Robbie Dreher with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Cardinals will face West Liberty in the semifinals at 8:30 tonight.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.