CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The second game in the history of the D. Stephen and Diane H. Walker Convocation Center didn't go quite as well as the first.As a result, West Virginia State experienced its fourth losing season in coach Bryan Poore's 15-year coaching career in Institute.Notre Dame senior forward Geovonte Rose had 17 points and 21 rebounds and the Falcons took a 10-point lead at halftime to roll past the Yellow Jackets, 97-78, in the first round of the first Mountain East Conference tournament.The victory sends Notre Dame (11-18) to the Civic Center at 6 p.m. Friday against West Liberty (24-2). The Falcons defeated the Hilltoppers on their home floor, 89-87, back on Jan. 30.
"I was worried after the weekend, the emotional high that you're on in that game, just the whole emotional level," said Poore, whose team defeated rival Charleston 78-74 in the first game at the school's new $19 million facility. "You win that game, just the emotional level of that weekend, and you think that you might have a letdown, and we did."There was no appearance of looking ahead for coach Tim Koenig's team, which didn't trail in a game that was tied only twice."We set out to be one of the best," said junior Lawrence DeArmond, a first-team all-MEC player. "We want to win this conference tournament no matter what our record is."
The halftime lead was 42-32, when DeArmond scored four consecutive points for a 14-point lead. The advantage remained at 14 when a DeArmond 3 with 14:11 left made it 17.Notre Dame 5-foot-7 guard Tyree Gaiter, whose MEC season- and career-high 44 points came in a 101-99 loss to State on Feb. 20, hit a 3 to give the Falcons their biggest lead, 67-43, with 12:23 on the clock.Gaiter - who wore a bandage over his right eye from a fall late in their last meeting - finished with just 15 points. Meanwhile, DeArmond picked it up with 30 points, and Rose had 11 of his 21 rebounds on the offensive end.
State did everything it could to contain Gaiter, who left the game with 10:09 left in the first half and didn't return until the second half. Freshman Angelo Sirianni guarded Gaiter early, immediately followed by Bo King and Juan Johnson."They were face-guarding him," Koenig said. "He's a very good player. There's some really good athletes in that other locker room."Enter DeArmond, who averaged 20.8 points coming into Tuesday's game. He was 14-of-25 from the floor and added seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and only two turnovers. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets (13-14) struggled in virtually every facet of the game, getting outrebounded 49-38, finishing with 10 fewer assists (17-7), and three fewer blocked shots (8-5).State had four fewer turnovers and one more steal, but that was no consolation against the energy level of the Falcons, who were 34-of-66 (51.5 percent), compared to 27-of-73 (37.0) for State."We tried zone, but if you try zone in the second half and you're down 18-20, that's just going to milk the game away," Poore said. "That might get it to 12. We needed somehow to get a string of turnovers and an 8-0 or 10-0 run quickly. Never could make it happen."
State trailed 36-25 with 3:40 remaining in the first half before a 6-0 run by State trimmed it to five. Notre Dame followed with a 6-1 run to end the half."I did think we'd make a run early," Poore said. "But, it just never materialized. Couldn't get a shot to go down. They fell down twice after loose balls and they ended up with a dunk out of it."The loss results in the second time Poore has had back-to-back losing seasons. His first two were in his second and third seasons at State.The victory marks the first-ever MEC Tournament victory for Notre Dame, located near Cleveland, Ohio in South Euclid and means another meeting with three-time defending Atlantic Region champion West Liberty."It's just another opportunity for us," DeArmond said. "It was a great win we had at their place earlier this season. On Friday, they're going to want to get us because we're one of the teams that beat us. I expect them to really play hard against us. We just have to be ready."Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com
or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.