By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels (10-3) fell to West Virginia (7-5) on the road Sunday 74-67, but they gave the Mountaineers a much tougher battle than they, or their fans, probably expected.
EKU battled back from a 16-point deficit early in the second half and after a three-pointer by Morgantown native Ryan Parsons tied the game, took the lead on two Eric Stutz free throws with 4:21 left in the game.
West Virginia then went on a 9-1 run to take a 70-64 lead, but the Colonels didn’t quit and Glenn Cosey hit a big three-pointer with 21.8 seconds to go that made it a one-possession game.
But, the Mountaineers hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said in a radio interview, that some halftime adjustments allowed the Colonels to get back in the game.
“We were just trying to run our stuff in the first half and it wasn’t very effective. We just tried to ball screen and spread them out in the second half. It worked much better and that was what allowed us to come back and take the lead,” Neubauer said in a radio interview after the game. “To their credit, they were successful in getting fouled and they went to the foul line and they shot it well tonight. They made 32-of-39 free throws and that was a huge part of the game.”
Cosey led three Colonels in double figures, finishing with 21 points and four rebounds. Mike DiNunno and Orlando Williams had 10 points each.
Things didn’t look very promising for the Colonels in the first half. After EKU jumped out to a 4-0 lead on baskets by Deverin Muff and Tarius Johnson, West Virginia’s swarming defense didn’t allow the Colonels to get into their offense and the Mountaineers went on runs of 14-2, 8-0 and 5-0 to build their big first-half cushion.
The one bright spot in the first half was the play of transfer Williams, who wasted no time in making his mark on his first game as a Colonel. Williams had back-to-back baskets that helped stem a West Virginia run within the first minute of action after becoming eligible to play after sitting out a transfer year.
West Virginia scored the first three points of the second half to build its lead back to 16 at 38-22, but then the Colonels shooters began to find open shots and knock them down as they went on a 13-3 run of their own to get back in the game.
Glenn Cosey, who was held scoreless until hitting two three-pointers in the final two minutes of the first half, had 15 second-half points, including three big three-pointers, the first of which trimmed the lead to six points with 15:31 left in the game.
Mike DiNunno, who was limited to one three-pointer in the first half, had seven second-half points, but more importantly, he began to find driving lanes into the middle that opened up shots for his teammates.
“Glenn’s shots had a lot to do with Mike DiNunno’s creations with the ball screens in the second half,” Neubauer said. “We set a lot of what we call gator ball-screens where we just try to loosen Mike up to get him into the lane and get him to draw help. Once he does that, he throws a good pass and Glenn found good looks and shot them in.”
Within the final 10 minutes, a basket by Cosey and back-to-back three pointers by Williams got the Colonels to within one point at 54-53.
Five free throws by West Virginia pushed the lead back to six, but once again the Colonels stormed back.
Stutz, who had a big game with five points, eight rebounds and four assists, got a basket on the inside, then Cosey hit his fourth three of the game and Parsons hit the big three-pointer from the corner to tie the game. Stutz’s free throws gave the Colonels their first lead since the score was 6-4. Cosey’s fifth three of the game got the Colonels to one within three late, but the Mountaineers hit their free throws at the end to seal it.
Neubauer said the Colonels needed Stutz to be active on the boards like he was against the Mountaineers going into OVC play, and said Williams would be a big asset for the team as well.
“Eric Stutz was outstanding. It really stands out early in the game where he went after the ball. He was tenacious as a rebounder and that is what we need from him. We need for him to be our dominant rebounder,” Neubauer said. “Orlando is very talented. He was very eager and he did some really good things for us and we are going to need him to help us. I told the team yesterday that Orlando is going to have some rust. He has not played in a year and a half. But he did some good things for us.”
Parsons’ performance at crucial point in the game was like something out of a movie script and something he will remember for a long time.
He said losing the game was a disappointment, but it was a special moment hitting the big shot in front of his family and a large group of high school friends, who showed their support by holding up large photos of him during the game.
“Obviously we wanted to win, that was the main thing and I’m bummed about that. But being back in the gym I grew up in, working out as a little kid and in high school, and hitting the shot, it was just great,” Parsons said. “I didn’t know my friends were out there. But I showed up, walking out for warm-ups and see my face about four times and I was surprised, but it was pretty good though.”
The Colonels return to action at 7 p.m. Thursday when they return to McBrayer for the first time in a month to open OVC play against Eastern Illinois.