UC's Aleksander Kesic drives to the basket while being guarded by Glenville's Lamar Mallory (middle) and Kevin Gray.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston's knack for exceeding expectations played out yet again.Finding a hot hand early in the second half, the Golden Eagles seized control of an otherwise tense situation, eventually built an 18-point lead and rolled to a 76-65 victory over Glenville State Saturday night in the men's semifinals of the Mountain East Conference tournament at the Civic Center.A crowd of 1,200 attended the first of two semifinal games.The Golden Eagles (20-8) finished second to West Liberty in the standings, are a virtual lock to advance to the NCAA Division II tournament and will play for the first-ever MEC men's tournament title against the Hilltoppers at 3:30 p.m. today.
It was not supposed to be like this. All the elements seemed in place for a so-so season - a first-year coach, a preseason coaches' poll that had them sixth in the 12-team league and a mediocre start in which they were 5-4 in early January. "For our guys, I'm so proud of them,'' said first-year coach Dwaine Osborne, the MEC's co-coach of the year. "They continue to fight through tough times and adversity.''They faced some tough times early in the second half. After a first half in which the lead changed hands seven times, UC led 38-36 with 18:23 left in the game. Less than five minutes later, the Golden Eagles had a 55-38 advantage and the resolve to extend their tournament run.
"When we were up by two,'' said senior Xavier Humphrey, "I think everybody thought this can't be our last game. So no matter what, leave it all on the court. And that's what we did.''Humphrey, who averaged 16.6 points during the season, overcame a dreadful first half and some questionable shot selection to help the Golden Eagles break it open.In the second half, he hit 4 of 6 3-pointers, the final of which gave UC a 71-53 lead with 3:46 left in the game. In the first half, he was 0 for 5 on 3s and 1 for 7 overall."I took a couple bad ones in the first half,'' said Humphrey, who finished with a team-leading 15 points, "and coach set me down and said, 'We need you to score but we don't need you to take bad shots.' I did take a lot of bad shots.''
Point guard Denzel Douglas earned Osborne's highest praise of the night."He had 14 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, four steals and one turnover in 36 minutes. That's ridiculous,'' said Osborne. "Man, that's ridiculous.''Osborne also noted that the 6-foot Douglas, who averaged 10.8 points and was second on the team with 5.5 rebounds, received no All-MEC recognition whatsoever."I think it's a travesty that he wasn't on the all-conference team,'' said the coach. "I have a lot of respect for the coaches in this league. It's nothing against anyone on the all-conference team. Those are good players, but if we've got to go find all-conference point guards and he isn't one, I don't know what we're going to do.''
Glenville's biggest problem, said coach Stephen Dye, was poor shooting. The No. 3 Pioneers (18-10) shot only 32 percent (8 of 25) in the first half and struggled for much of the second before heating up a bit down the stretch. Overall, they shot 37.9 percent (22 for 58) and were 3 of 19 on 3-pointers."If you can't make shots,'' said Dye, "it's going to be hard to win a game. Tonight, we were 37 percent and, to be honest with you, until the last three or four minutes, it was probably a lot lower than that. I don't fault my guys' effort. I thought they played extremely hard. The ball didn't fall tonight. I didn't think we had selfishness or anything like that. Sometimes you make shots, and sometimes you don't. You're going to have your good nights and your bad nights, and tonight we just didn't have it. I don't want to take anything away from Charleston's defense. I thought they did a pretty good job, but we had some wide-open looks. It just wasn't meant to be.''Dye believes the Pioneers, ranked No. 8 in the Atlantic Region, will be one of eight teams selected to play in the Division II regional tournament, "I think we're in, but nothing is finalized,'' he said. "We're going to be together as a family when the [pairings] come out [tonight].''If Glenville qualifies, it will be its first men's Division II postseason appearance since the school switched from NAIA to NCAA as part of the West Virginia Conference in the 1994-95 season.In addition to Humphrey's and Douglas' scoring, Fred Simpson scored 14, Aleksander Kesic was 5 for 5 from the floor, including 2 of 2 from 3-point range, for 12 points, and Tino diTrapano had 11 points and four assists. Humphrey became the 45th player in Morris Harvey/University of Charleston history to reach 1,000 points in a career.
For Glenville, Reggie Williams had 16 points and eight rebounds, Lamont Cole added 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and Lamar Mallory had 10 points and nine rebounds.