Charleston, W. Va. – As the month of February begins, the push for the Mountain East Conference (MEC) Tournament is on as teams are making their push for WesBanco Arena. The Wheeling University Men's Basketball team (5-15, 3-12) would begin their push for the tournament with a battle against Charleston on Wednesday night it was a game that would come down to the final five minutes of play, but in the end the Cardinals would fall 86-83.
After trailing for a majority of the night, the Cardinals had battled back throughout the second half and were trailing 73-70 with five minutes to play. Marcus Johnson would hit a layup that made it a one-point game as the team's began a back and forth. John Korte and Johnson would each hit layups on back-to-back possessions, but Charleston would keep up and maintain their one-point lead. However, Charleston's Eddie Colbert III would give Wheeling an opening with 1:25 to play, going 1-2 from the free throw line to make it an 80-78 game. The Cardinals responded with a Korte layup and it was tied for the first time since the first half. However, it would be that free throw line that ended Wheeling's day as the Golden Eagles went 4-4 to end things. Korte hit one more three as time expired, but the damage was done as Charleston picked up the 86-83 win.
That shot ended what was a big day for Korte as he got back to his 25+ point performances that he has been accustomed to as of late. He led the way with 26 points on the night and led the defensive effort with eight rebounds. He was one of two 20+ point scorers on the night for the Cardinals as Marcus Johnson added 24 points in the effort, while shooting 10-17 from the floor. Lately, the Cardinals have been getting sparks from the bench, and this time it came from sophomore William Gabbert. Gabbert was the final double digit scorer for the Cardinals, finishing with 13 points on the night. H10 of those 13 points came from three-point range, as Gabbert shot 50% (3-6) from beyond the arc to finish out another strong offensive day for the team.
Before the drama of the final five minutes, it was Charleston that came out strong in the first half of the game. A layup from the Golden Eagle's CJ Meredith sparked a 9-0 run that started the game for the Golden Eagles. The Cardinals would get on the board at the 17:26 mark of that first half when Brent Price ok it in a layup that made it a 9-2 game. Marcus Johnson would add the next jumper three minutes later and at the first media timeout, the Cardinals were trailing 14-4. Johnson hit another layup following the timeout, but another run for the Golden Eagles would make it a 22-6 game with ,13 minutes left in the first half. It would be time for the Cardinals to battle back and Gabbert got them back on the board with a pair of free throws. This would spark a 6-2 run and when the second media timeout arrived, Wheeling had cut their deficit to 24-10.
Charleston would outscore Wheeling 6-4 over the next two minutes, and extended their lead to 30-14 with 8:26 remaining in the half. A minute later, Johnson would hit a layup and drew a foul to create a three-point play. That would spark the Cardinal's biggest run of the game to that point as they scored nine unanswered points and brought it to a 30-23 game with 6:35 left in the half. Johnson and Korte were the spark plugs of the run, splitting the nine points as they helped their team battle back in the game. Wheeling kept it close over the next three minutes, but Charleston would once again pull away and made it a 42-30 game with 2:26 to go in the first half. Wheeling would outscored the Golden Eagles, 7-5 over the final two and a half minutes and went into the locker room trailing 47-37.
After scoring just the 37 first half points, the Cardinals offense was looking to break out in the game's second half. After Charleston accounted for the first three points of the new half, Trey Stoffer got the Cardinals on the board with a layup. They would answer with six points of their own and cut into the Charleston lead, making it 51-43. Charleston would once again build their lead, making it a 60-50 game by the 12 minute mark. The Cardinal's offense would turn it on again as they did at the end of the first half as they would battle back to make it a three-point game. Wheeling would go on an 11-3 run, led by three three-pointers by Gabbert, as it would turn into a 63-61 game. The final 10 minutes of play featured back and forth action, leading up to the thrilling final five minutes of play. The Cardinals fell to 3-12 in conference play, but showed resilience against one of the top teams in the conference.
The Wheeling University Men's Basketball team returns to action on Saturday, February 4th, when they host West Virginia State with tip-off at 4 PM.