INSTITUTE — That sound you heard Saturday evening was a depth charge going off in Institute.
Following a lackluster first half and an uneven start to the second half, West Virginia State turned to its bench players to provide a spark, and their efforts helped the Yellow Jackets rally for an 82-79 Mountain East Conference victory at the Walker Convocation Center.
The seventh straight win for the Yellow Jackets (15-1, 9-1 MEC) kept them near the top of the league standings and improved their home record to 7-0. But it certainly didn’t come easily against the underdog Battlers (4-10, 3-7), who led by as many as 12 points in the second half and appeared quite comfortable in a road venue.
Dwaine Jones (19 points) and Noah Jordan (14 points, eight rebounds) provided much of the firepower once State’s starters re-entered the game, scoring seven and nine points, respectively, during a game-ending 20-5 run by the Jackets.
“We went to our full-court press and run-and-jump more, trap and ball screen,’’ State coach Bryan Poore said, “just trying really to speed them up, which of course worked. We forced some turnovers and got our guys in transition. When we score out of our defense, that’s when we’re good.’’
Over the final 4:19, AB went 1 of 6 shooting and committed five of its 18 turnovers, which helped turn State’s 76-69 deficit into a victory. Much of that can be attributed to Poore’s decision to swap out all five of his starters with about 14 minutes left in the game. It paid immediate dividends.
The group of Miguel Martinez, Aboubacar Cisse, Bunky Brown, Ricky Rollins and Ibn Loyal shaved what had been a 10-point deficit as close as 58-57 on a Cisse 3-pointer with 12:11 to go. When the starters came back in at the 7:57 mark, State was still down 70-62, but AB’s stamina was starting to wither and it was apparent the Jackets’ first five had a lot of juice left.
“I just wasn’t pleased with the first group,’’ Poore said, “and the way they played the first five, six minutes of the second half. So then I just decided to empty it out and put five new guys in there, and they brought a lot of energy.
“A lot of times when you do that, it kind of sends a message to both groups. [Not just] to the group that’s coming out, but to the group that’s going in. They know they’ve got a sense of urgency because I just put all five of you all in at the same time. I’ve done that a few times in my career. Normally, it kinda wakes people up.’’
The message was apparently received loud and clear by State’s starters, who accounted for all of that 20-5 finishing flourish after falling behind 74-62 with seven minutes left.
Samier Kinsler, who had 10 points for State, gave his team the lead for good with two free throws for a 78-76 advantage with 2:44 to go.
The late reversal ruined a solid effort by Alderson Broaddus’ duo of Jalen Knott, who sank seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points, and Jon King, who tallied 22. Zach Simpkins, a former Winfield standout, added 12 points for the Battlers.
A 3-ball by Simpkins with 1:19 left brought AB within 82-79, but the Battlers missed three shots in the final 38 seconds, including a pair of 3s by King just ahead of the buzzer.
“We got a little bit tired in our legs,’’ AB coach Stephen Dye said. “Coach Poore’s really good. He was frustrated in the second half and he took his dogs out of the game. In the end, it worked out in his favor because they had better legs than we had.
“We had a couple things not go our way. We didn’t have any timeouts left and we had three straight turnovers when they outscored us 8-0. For 36 minutes, I felt we thought we were just as good as they were. I don’t think they were great tonight, but some of that was how we played.’’
State made eight of its final 11 shots, many on runouts after steals, to fuel its comeback, but Poore was more concerned about the defensive effort, especially early on. AB was 8 of 19 on 3-pointers in the first half against the MEC’s leader in 3-point field goal defense.
“I felt like we didn’t guard as well as we should have tonight,’’ Poore said, “especially in the first half, and we’ve just got to clean that up.
“Tough every night in this league. There’s no nights off. When you don’t come and play your best, then there’s going to be games like that. ... The positive thing is we found a way to win.’’
Anthony Pittman led the Jackets to a 38-32 edge off the boards by grabbing a dozen rebounds. Coryon Rice had 11 for AB.
Dye was disappointed with how the game ended, but saw a sliver of sunshine.
“Any time you play on the road versus a top-25 team, they’re going to make plays,’’ Dye said, “and they’ve got really good players. We just didn’t make enough plays.
“We’ll take some positives from that. We don’t want to lose games, but right now I love my kids. We’ve got great guys and I think if they continue to get better, we can try to get a little more consistent. We don’t want to play like this, then have a bad game, then play like that. We want to win now, but [need] a little more consistency. We want to be at our best in late February, March.’’