Bryan Poore has been coaching long enough to know that all victories aren’t created equal. Like the one his West Virginia State team rang up Wednesday evening at nationally ranked West Liberty.
The Yellow Jackets rallied from deficits as large as 15 points in the first half to emerge with a 100-96 Mountain East Conference victory, extending their current winning streak to six games.
The Hilltoppers (4-2) came into the contest as the No. 9 team in the Division II national rankings. Moreover, the longtime MEC power had beaten State 20 times in their previous 21 meetings, and the Yellow Jackets had lost in their last 10 trips to West Liberty, either in MEC or West Virginia Conference games, with the previous victory there coming on Feb. 13, 2006.
“West Liberty is at the top of the heap right now,’’ Poore said, “and they have been for several years. If you go back and look, we beat them in the [WVC] tournament title game in 2010 and then in 2011, they beat us and took the mantle from us at that point and ran with it.
“We’ve had a couple rough years with injuries and chemistry issues, and we feel like we’re climbing our way back to the top. And to get there, you have to beat West Liberty, because they’re at the top of the league.’’
West Virginia State (6-1) did it on Wednesday after falling behind 40-25 in the first half and still trailing 61-49 with 14-plus minutes left.
Anthony Pittman, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard-forward from Capital High School, poured in 20 of his 28 points in the second half, sinking 12 of 13 free throws following the halftime break. Pittman was a perfect 10 of 10 at the line in the final 3:36. He also posted his sixth double-double in seven games, ending up with 12 rebounds.
Jeremiah Moore, who missed State’s last game with turf toe, bounced back in a big way with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Treohn Watkins added 21 points and Glen Abram 16. That helped offset efforts of 29 and 25 points by West Liberty’s Dalton Bolon and Pat Robinson, respectively.
Poore, in his 22nd season coaching the Jackets, knew his team was capable of coming back, even after it fell behind big early in the game.
“Usually, you just need to settle down a little bit,’’ Poore said. “We’ve got some good experienced guys ... who have been through some battles in this league, and you just can’t buy experience. So you just hope to settle them down and then they know what they’ve got to do. Even in the first half when we were down 15, I told one of my assistant coaches if we cut it to single digits by halftime, we’d be OK, and we did.
“At halftime, I told them, ‘Look, we’ve got 14 turnovers and we’re only down eight points. Settle down, take care of the ball and take good shots and we’ll get back in this thing.’ We got a couple runouts off their misses and that changed the momentum of the game. We got a couple baskets going to the basket, and that changed momentum.’’
Once State got ahead, it was able to protect the lead by making 17 of 20 second-half free throws.
“Pitt really came through clutch,’’ Poore said. “He made all of his down the stretch. He’s so athletic, we can get the ball inbounded to him and let him high-point it and go get it. And he’s also getting rebounds [and getting fouled].’’
The Yellow Jackets are leaning on the trio of Abram, Moore and Pittman, who all rank highly in the MEC stat lists. Abram stands second in the league in scoring (23.6), Moore (19.7) is ninth and Pittman (17.0) is 16th. Pittman leads the league in rebounding (12.1) and blocked shots (2.1) and Abram has an MEC-best 25 3-point goals.
“They’re kind of turning into the three-headed monster,’’ Poore said. “They play well off each other. Glen can obviously score and both of the others look for Glen to score. They’ve kind of developed a good bond and chemistry, and we’ve got the right pieces around them.
“Watkins can really shoot, and these guys trust him to make shots, especially if you leave him alone. Jihad Shockley and Savion Marshall-Hamilton just do kind of the gritty, grimy, dirty work. Those guys run the floor and maybe we don’t play through them offensively, but they’re key, too. I like the pieces we’ve put together.’’
State’s scheduled Saturday home game against Wheeling has been postponed. That leaves the Jackets with a road trip on Wednesday to Frostburg State for their next game.
The University of Charleston captured its fifth consecutive win Wednesday with a 98-66 home victory against Frostburg State. Five players reached double-figure scoring for UC (5-2), led by Lamont McManus with 18 points.
Isaiah Gable added 17, Shaunn Monroe and Eddie Colbert III 14 each and Joseph Lanzi 10 for the Golden Eagles. Colbert also grabbed 13 rebounds and Seth O’Neal dished out 10 assists for UC.
For Frostburg (2-5), Jaylon Johnson had 16 points and Agyei Edwards 14.
UC puts its winning streak on the line Saturday when it hosts West Liberty at 4:30 p.m. at the Wehrle Innovation Center.