UC passes another big test
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The schedule called for the University of Charleston to open Mountain East Conference play against the league's three top-rated teams.
A month ago, the prospect of early-season tests against West Liberty, Fairmont State and Wheeling Jesuit probably did not bode well for a UC team tinkering with a restructured roster and a first-year coach.
But the Golden Eagles have adapted nicely. Although they squandered nearly all of an 11-point lead Thursday night, they made enough plays down the stretch - most notably Denzel Douglas' steal with 10 seconds left - to slip past Fairmont 75-71 at Eddie King Gym. A crowd of about 600 attended.
Afterward, first-year coach Dwaine Osborne seemed especially pleased that school president Ed Welch entered the locker room and offered unsolicited praise.
"Dr. Welch said he thought it's been awhile since he's seen the unselfishness and the fight and the culmination of all those things,'' said Osborne. "I don't know. I haven't been here.''
The Golden Eagles (5-1, 2-1) now own a double-overtime road victory over Wheeling Jesuit, the team voted third in the coaches' preseason poll, as well as Thursday's nail-biter over the Falcons, who were No. 2 in the poll. In their MEC opener, the Golden Eagles played competitively against No. 1 West Liberty at home, rallying to within six points in the second half, but lost 89-76.
"The thing I love about this team,'' said Osborne, "is that their effort is great. I never have to worry about that. And I never have to worry about whether we're going to be selfish. I think we play well together.''
Against the Falcons, however, the victory nearly slipped away. On three occasions in the second half, UC led by 11 points, the latest a 66-55 advantage on Denio Chirindja's layup, assisted by Tino diTrapano, with 5:03 left in the game.
But the Falcons (4-2, 1-2), who defeated UC in Eddie King Gym last year, cut the deficit to 73-70 on Caleb Davis' basket with 32 seconds left. And after Fairmont stole a pass, the Falcons' Ke'Chaun Lewis drew a foul and made 1 of 2, cutting the Golden Eagles' lead to 73-71 with 26 seconds left.
With 23 seconds left, UC's diTrapano converted 1 of 2 free throws, leaving Fairmont with the ball and a just three-point deficit. But Douglas, a University of Idaho transfer, stole a pass with 10 seconds left, was fouled and made 1 of 2 with 8.2 seconds remaining to virtually seal the win.
Osborne, a former Glenville State coach, is still learning the conference and his roster but likes his team's intense and unselfish play.
"All I know is we talk about it. We have good kids who try to do it. We try to reinforce it. It's something we talk about a lot,'' he said. "What we say is that the people in this locker room are a family, and we treat each other like family. We don't just throw that word around.''
DiTrapano, a George Washington alumnus, made his second start of the season at point guard and responded with 15 points to share team high-point honors with guard Baptiste Boucharel. Thirteen of diTrapano's points came in the second half, including back-to-back baskets shortly after halftime to help UC construct its 11-point lead. He also had three rebounds and three assists. Aleksander Kesic added 12 points and six rebounds.
"We're getting some good play out of our seniors,'' said Osborne. "Xavier Humphrey's having a great year so far. Denzel's been huge in key moments and had that huge steal. Kesic and Tino are both sophomores. Austin Brewer and Denio are providing some help as freshmen. So it's been a good overall effort.''
Fairmont, which led in the game's early minutes but never again, was led by Thomas Wimbush's 23 points and 10 rebounds. Martins Abele, a 7-foot native of Latvia and a Duquesne transfer, contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Reach Mike Whiteford at email@example.com.