University of Charleston men’s coach Dwaine Osborne hopes to see a more familiar effort out of his players Sunday when they take the court for the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional semifinals at West Liberty.
Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. when UC (14-3), the No. 2 seed in the region, tangles with the host Hilltoppers (16-4). At stake is a berth in Tuesday’s regional finals.
Almost one week ago, the Golden Eagles turned in perhaps their most perplexing game of the season in an 84-69 loss to Fairmont State in the Mountain East Conference tournament semifinals in Wheeling. The Falcons ravaged UC’s defense, which leads the MEC in fewest points allowed per game (71.8) by a large margin, and also held the Golden Eagles’ offense to 45.6% shooting when UC came into the contest leading the league at better than 53%.
“It was so weird,’’ Osborne said earlier this week. “It felt like the team I coached in the tournament was not the team I coached all year. It was so different in the loss to Fairmont. Now, we were good against Wheeling [in the quarterfinals] on both sides of the ball. In the semifinals, we did things we had not done all year. We’re a really good transition defense team, and we were terrible against Fairmont, multiple things like that.
“I thought I coached a terrible game, and I did not think we played very well. Not one person played well; we were out of sorts a little bit. We’ve got to refocus ourselves. Most times in life, people will try to be somebody they’re not. It’s a societal issue. You do what you’re created to do. I’m a basketball coach and not a mechanic, so if I tried to fix my car, things would probably not go very well. Be who you are, and do that really well.’’
Much of this past week, Osborne and his players found themselves in a position where they had to turn the attention to their own play because, having an opening-round bye, they didn’t find out their semifinal opponent until less than 24 hours before game time, as West Liberty beat Malone 94-89 in Saturday evening’s first quarterfinal game.
Thus, Osborne said preparations began Wednesday for playing two different teams — teams that he said are “wired different.’’ But UC was helped by the fact that it knows West Liberty quite well because of their MEC rivalry through the years, combined with the fact that the Golden Eagles played Malone of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference early last season, winning 92-86 in Charleston.
“We’ve played West Liberty for years,’’ Osborne said, “and they do what they do. It doesn’t really change if you played against them five years ago. The players might be different, but essentially what they’re doing is the same. The scouting report for them doesn’t change much, because we’ve probably played them 30, 35 times since they went on their run.’’
The Hilltoppers are led by Dalton Bolon, the two-time MEC player of the year who leads WL in scoring at 21.7 points per game. He’s followed by Pat Robinson (20.2), Will Yoakum (16.5) and Bryce Butler (11.2) on a high-flying squad that tops the conference at 104.8 ppg.
West Liberty also possesses the home-court advantage, of particular note since the Hilltoppers are 201-10 at the Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex since the 2007-08 season. UC beat West Liberty 78-74 in Charleston on Jan. 30 in their only previous meeting this season.
“They don’t lose much at home,’’ Osborne said. “I think it might be a little different because they won’t have the same number of fans there, but they are at home, so they’re in comfortable confines at their place. Still, the basket is 10 feet high and court’s the same length, so you do what you know you’re supposed to do.’’
Charleston counters with five players of its own scoring at better than 11 points per game — Lamont McManus (14.4), Seth O’Neal (12.2), Keith Williams (11.9), Eddie Colbert III (11.8) and Isaiah Gable (11.5).
The winner of Tuesday’s regional final advances to the eight-team Division II national tournament at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana from March 24-27.