WHEELING, W.Va. – The University of Charleston came into the annual Mountain East Conference Tournament as the hottest team in the league.
Nothing changed Friday afternoon as the 12th-ranked Golden Eagles exerted their dominance early and often en route to an 86-49 victory over Wheeling University.
The win was the 14th in a row for UC which improved to 14-2. It also earned Charleston a berth in Saturday’s semifinals at 5 p.m.
Wheeling finished its season with a 6-12 record.
The 37-point win by the Golden Eagles established a new record for the largest margin of victory in an MEC Tournament game.
“I think we were fortunate to play well today on both sides of the ball,” UC coach Dwaine Osborne said. “I thought we shot it well. I thought we defended well and I felt like we were really engaged. I thought our preparation was really good too because they run quite a bit of stuff.”
In the Golden Eagles’ 13 previous wins this season Wheeling was one of two teams who kept it close with UC losing by just four points back on Feb. 8. Friday, Charleston was determined the second meeting between the squads wouldn’t be that way.
“Charleston is a really good team,” first-year Wheeling coach Chris Richardson said. “They’ve won 14 games in a row. They have one first-team all-conference player and they have the coach of the year and they deserve all of the accolades that they’ve gotten.
“I thought they really imposed their will on us tonight from the beginning. I thought we let our offense affect our defense and vice versa. That was kinda the story of the game. All credit to them and to coach Osborne for having them ready to play.”
UC broke open a close game midway through the first half with an 11-1 run in a span of just 1:30 which helped the Golden Eagles take a 41-25 advantage at the break. Charleston then opened the second half with an impressive 14-1 surge in the first 3:53 to push its lead to 29 and the game was never close again.
“We talked about the first five minutes of the second half being super important,” Osborne said. “As a coach you could really do that with every game and every minute because it is super critical and it’s imperative that you’re playing well if you want to advance in a tournament and especially the Mountain East Conference Tournament.
“We came out and were super sharp. We shared the ball, took really good shots and when we can get good shots we feel like we can be pretty effective because we do have a lot of different players who can shoot the ball and make plays.”
Charleston’s Seth O’Neal, who finished with 12 points, a game-high seven assists and five rebounds, says the big difference between Friday’s game and the first meeting between the squads was the way UC defended.
“I would said defensively was the difference,” O’Neal said. “Obviously I respect them as a team, but they’ve got two really good players in Jordan Reid and Jarett Haines. They’re two great scorers who average 20 or more per game. Our game plan was to try to make their other guys beat us. Not saying they couldn’t, but we just wanted to make it tough on those two guys.
“I feel like we just really played great team defense and offensively we ran and shared the ball very well.”
Reid, who came into the game averaging 22.6 points per contest, was held to just 14 Friday which led Wheeling. He says UC’s defense was tough this go round, but noted that he missed some early shots he shouldn’t have.
“They did a good job helping on the inside today,” said Reid, who was 6-of-16 from the field. “They backed off of me and I missed a few open shots early. I’ll live with those misses, but they did do a good job of bumping me on cuts and over the course of a game that gets you tired sometimes. I did play 39 minutes.
“They also did a better job today of boxing me out and keeping me off the boards. Credit goes to them. I always look forward to playing Charleston because you know it’s going to be a physical game. They did do a good job of containing me and Jarett, though.”
Like they have all season the Golden Eagles employed a balanced attack which featured five double-figure scorers non of whom scored more than 14 points. Lamont McManus led UC with 14 points. The Golden Eagles also got 12 from O’Neal and 11 points apiece from Isaiah Gable, Shunta Wilson and Tyler Eberhart. Wilson also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to post a double-double.
As noted, Reid led Wheeling with 14 points and nine rebounds. He had 24 points and 12 boards in the first meeting between the schools. Haines was the only other Cardinal to reach double figures finishing with 11 points.
Wheeling shot just 31.7 percent for the game from the field (20-of-63), including a dismal 1-of-14 showing (7.1 percent) from 3-point range.
Charleston, on the other hand, connected on 55.2 percent of its shots (37-of-67) and had 18 assists on its 37 field goals. The Golden Eagles also outscored Wheeling 60-26 in the paint.
Charleston will be making its second straight appearance in the tournament semifinals and its third in the last four years. UC lost in the title game last season to West Liberty, 73-60.