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Depth, defense have Golden Eagles off to fast start

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Winthrop transfer Robbie Dreher finally got eligible a couple of games ago and has promptly scored in double figures in each of his first two games off the bench, creating a pleasant problem for Charleston coach Mark Downey.

Six starters for five positions.

Downey was high on Dreher before the season started and still is, but as the junior transfer was battling the NCAA for eligibility, Corey Jackson assumed the starting roll and ran with it, creating UC's current quandary.

"It's a tough thing," Downey said. "Corey's done a really good job and he's gotten better and better. Robbie played a lot of minutes the other night, but I told Corey that I should've found more minutes for him because he did some really good things for us while he was in there. I hate to take him out of the starting lineup and right now we're going to leave him in there, but that could change any day."

Jackson is averaging 10.2 points per contest, contributing to Charleston's 5-1 start, including a 2-1 mark in the league.

Still, Downey sees great things for Dreher in the not-so-distant future.

"He's coming along slowly," Downey said. "He's a good defender, he's strong, he rebounds, and he can score the ball. Right now he's still trying to find his place in our offense but that will come. He's playing just a little bit too quick right now, but it's going to slow down for him and when it does, he's going to be special."

As a team, UC is succeeding just how Downey likes it, on the boards and on the defensive side of the ball.

Charleston is the top team in the West Virginia Conference in terms of rebounding margin at plus-11.7 a game and is holding opponents to just 41.2 percent shooting from the floor.

"This team has kind of taken that end of the floor seriously and that's fun to coach," Downey said. "I was worried about rebounding because we're not very big, we're not real tall, and we're not real strong, so we've got to do it as a team. We've got to gang rebound and that's what we've been doing."

For a second straight year, a number of transfers came into UC, but the presence of returners like Evan Faulkner and Xavier Humphrey has been huge in helping the Golden Eagles gel quickly.

"It seems like guys are buying in and doing what they need to do to get on the floor and help us win," Downey said. "I think we're as talented as we've ever been. The biggest key is chemistry, and it's coming little by little."

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  • There just can't be a coach on any level of college basketball that needs a holiday break more than WVU Tech's Bob Williams.

    Consider the following:

  • The Golden Bears lost seven seniors off of last year's squad;
  • Tech brought in a pair of junior-college transfers (Armond Perez, Jauries Thomas) who have practiced with the team but are still ineligible;
  • The Golden Bears have lost two freshmen [Cam Powell, Eddie Gordon] and a junior [Kornilous Donnell] for multiple games due to injuries;
  • Tech had its tallest player in former Scott standout David Ward, quit the team just a week ago;
  • And the team's prized recruit from a year ago, Tolsia's Jacob Copley, decided not to play before the season even started.
  • Add the fact that Tech has already taken on the wear and tear of 15 games, and the result is a squad that will play Saturday's game against Concord with five scholarship players and three walk-ons.

    "We've probably played more games than any team in the country right now on any level," Williams said. "We've played 15 games and had 50-some practices and our kids got a little worn down."

    Powell, the backup point guard, missed time due to illness and a shoulder injury while Gordon will be out for another month and a half after a deep thigh bruise turned into a blood clot.

    Making the Perez-Thomas situation even tougher is the fact that both are 6-foot-6 and could help a team playing with one post player and an overall lack of size.

    Still, Tech sits with a winning record (8-7) despite dropping three in a row and five of its last six. With a win over either the Mountain Lions or Shawnee State on Monday, the Golden Bears can carry a winning record and perhaps some momentum into the break.

    "That would be big and we would really like to add a big man," Williams said. "I think our guards are as good as anyone's, but in this game you've got to have some size too."

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  • It's been a rough stretch of games for West Virginia State (4-5), which has lost three of its last four games and has yet to win two in a row at any point this season.

    The Yellow Jackets are simply struggling to score as the team ranks last in the conference in points per game and is shooting just 37.9 percent from the floor and 27 percent from 3-point range.

    "We need to score more out of our defense and out of transition," State coach Bryan Poore said. "Everything we're scoring is against a set defense, which makes it difficult. We haven't fully grasped and gotten good at pressing yet."

    State's leading scorer, David Ford, is averaging 12.9 points per game, which is good enough for just 30th in the conference.

    But injuries have hurt State as well.

    Bo King and point guard Jalen Walker were lost within two minutes of each other at the same practice early in the season.

    "I thought about just having them play checkers at the next practice," Poore said with a laugh.

    King is likely out for the year with a broken bone in his foot and is appealing to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, while Walker has appeared sporadically and is still battling a pulled hamstring.

    "We're just such a work in progress," Poore said. "We need all the practice we can get and at the same time we need to rest and get healthy. We've got so many guys banged up - once again because it happened last year, too - that it's really changed our team."

    State will travel to Glenville State for a 4 p.m. tip-off on Saturday before the holiday break.

    Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.


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