It was as simple as playing as a team for West Virginia State on Monday evening.Senior guard Anton Hutchins scored 16 points to lead five players in double figures as the Yellow Jackets dispatched red-hot West Virginia Wesleyan 82-64 for their first Mountain East Conference victory of the season.A crowd of about 130 attended the matchup at Fleming Hall in Institute, which featured Wesleyan coach and former West Virginia player Patrick Beilein.Hutchins knocked down 6 of 8 shots and grabbed nine rebounds for State (4-5 overall, 1-5 MEC), which was tied for last place in the conference.
Yellow Jackets senior guard Juan Johnson added 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting from the floor with five boards, junior guard Dimitrios Jelen-Joy chipped in 12 points on 5-of-7 accuracy and senior guard Bo King donated 11 points and sophomore guard Dominic Phillips had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.State shot a sizzling 60.7 percent in the second half and 54.2 percent for the game, as it extended a 36-28 halftime lead into a 70-53 romp with 4:55 left."Playing together, that's what it was,'' said King. "We needed to play hard and play together. It definitely boosts everyone's confidence and relieves a little pressure.
"We hadn't been playing very well and we knew we needed to come together to get us a win and we did that. I'm real proud of our guys for sticking it out and playing together.''The Yellow Jackets scored five straight points to build a 41-30 edge early in the second half, but the Bobcats (8-6, 3-3), who had won six of their last seven, closed to three points (45-42) with 12:54 remaining. State used a 17-9 spurt with eight different players scoring to build a 62-51 lead with 6:29 left, then put the game on ice with a 15-3 burst for a 77-56 advantage at the 2:29 mark."We needed that,'' said State coach Bryan Poore. "We've still got a long ways to go. One win doesn't fix everything. That's a step in the right direction. We needed a little confidence and a little momentum."
Poore welcomed 11 fresh faces after suffering through a 10-19 record last year and an opening-round exit in the West Virginia Conference tournament. That was the Yellow Jackets' first losing season in 10 years, a stretch in which they captured three tournament championships and a pair of runner-up finishes."We need a little togetherness,'' Poor said. "This team isn't together yet. When you put as many new faces as we did together and a few of those guys haven't played basketball in two years ... they're still getting adjusted to a college game instead of rec league. It's still a work in progress.''Sophomore guard Chris Dewberry notched 16 points Monday for Wesleyan, which only had 12 turnovers but shot just 36.7 percent and was 7 of 29 from long distance. Bobcats senior swingman T.J. Thompson added 13 and freshman guard Aleksandar Djordjevic dropped in 10."Some days you'll have games like that where you don't make shots but you have to defend the other end,'' Beilein said. "[West Virginia State] has great athletes and we weren't able to defend."They did a good job of speeding us up with the run and jump. We should thrive off that. You saw how many open 3s we got and when they don't start falling its contagious. They get out and run and it's hard for us to come back from that.''
King, who began his final semester of eligibility last month, played in just his fourth game, and hopes this is the beginning of a fresh start for both him and the Yellow Jackets."You can't ask for anything more in the world than being out here on the court with the guys giving their all,'' he said. "We're doing what we love to do."I do believe we can springboard off this. Anton mentioned in our meeting after the game we improved in all areas. We just need to carry it over from this game to practice and the next game.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinsonat firstname.lastname@example.org