For those who doubt the importance of experience in team sports, look no further than the West Chester men’s basketball team for tangible proof that teams need to “learn how to win” down the stretch. The team came into this week of play with a golden opportunity to cement themselves as the second seed in the PSAC. However, they ended the week tied for third in the conference after a 64-57 loss to cross-town rival Cheyney and a 67-53 win over Bloomsburg.In the first meeting between the two rivals, West Chester walked into Cheyney’s Cope Hall and walked out with an impressive 65-52 win. On Wednesday night, the Wolves returned the favor. Led by Dominique Curry’s 14 point and career-high 15 rebound performance and some clutch shooting from little-known sharpshooter Hakeem Townsend, the Wolves took advantage of a sloppy West Chester team en route to the seven-point win.
In the first half, West Chester struggled on offense, shooting a dismal 28 percent on 7-25 shooting. The lowlight of the half for the Golden Rams was their 2-12 showing from three-point land. A Curry jumper would cap off a 8-2 Cheyney run to start off the game and essentially set the tone for the rest of the game.
The teams would battle back and forth in the first half and Cheyney would extend their lead to eight on a Tyrone Smith dunk with 1:30 left. WCU whittled down the lead to six as sophomore point guard Roger White found junior center Ralph Hegamin underneath the basket for an easy lay-up. The Golden Rams headed into the locker room only down 26-20 despite its awful shooting and 11 turnovers. West Chester had a tough time cleaning up their defensive rebounds as they allowed Cheyney eight offensive rebounds in the first half. Curry used his athletic ability to corral five of those eight offensive rebounds for the Wolves.
Freshman guard Sandy Tanner started the second half scoring as he deftly knifed through the Cheyney defense and made a lay-up to bring WCU within four. Less than three minutes later, junior shooting guard Kenneth St. George hit a big three-pointer to give the Golden Rams a slim 29-28 lead with 16:50 left to go.
A Tyrone Smith lay-up would knot things up at 38, and moments later Townsend would nail a three-pointer, which gave Cheyney a lead they would never relinquish. Townsend would also get the game’s next five points on the strength of a three-pointer and a jumper to push Cheyney’s lead to 46-38. West Chester was able to bring it to within four with less than a minute to go, but Smith made a pair of free throws and Maurice McPherson would also hit a free throw to ice the game.
“I’ll tell you what, I was really disappointed with our effort overall,” said WCU head coach Damien Blair. “[In the] first three or four minutes of the game, it just seemed like we weren’t even in the game.”
St. George’s 17 points led West Chester. Hegamin also contributed 15 points and added six rebounds. Junior swingman Kehinde Roberts also chipped in 12 points and added three rebounds.
On Saturday, the Golden Rams traveled to the campus of Bloomsburg University to take on a struggling Huskies squad. Led by Hegamin’s 22 points and eight rebounds as well as St. George’s 20 points, the Golden Rams defeated the Huskies 67-53.
The Golden Rams abused the Huskies physically as they out rebounded them 37-29. WCU had five different players register at least five rebounds, including Sandy Tanner, who snagged 10 rebounds.
However, the story of the game was the Hegamin and St. George show as the pair contributed a combined 42 points, nine rebounds, five assists and one steal. A Hegamin lay-up with 17:10 left in the first half gave the Golden Rams a 4-3 lead, and they would never trail after that point.
With the week’s split, the Golden Rams moved to 15-8 and 6-4 in the PSAC East, good enough for third place behind Kutztown and Cheyney. The Golden Rams will have a pair of absolutely critical matchups this week. On Wednesday night, they will travel to Kutztown to take on the Golden Bears. KU is 9-1 in conference and 20-3 overall. A win over them on the road would go a long way in building the team’s confidence.
However, that game’s importance is overshadowed by the importance of Saturday’s tilt against Mansfield. The Golden Rams will host the Mountaineers and look to avenge a 79-68 road loss from less than a month ago. With this game essentially being for third place in the PSAC East, the Golden Rams would be sitting pretty for playoff contention if they were able to win this game.
Matt Chandik is a fourth-year student majoring in Spanish with a minor in Journalism. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu.