INSTITUTE, W.Va. — It has not been an easy week for the West Virginia State women’s basketball team.
The Yellow Jackets welcomed the reigning Division II national champions Glenville State on Wednesday, then faced the two-time defending Mountain East Conference champion University of Charleston.
The Yellow Jackets were riding high entering the matchup with UC after snapping a 15-game losing streak to the Pioneers, 76-75. WVSU then had little time to prepare for tough crosstown rival UC. However, the Yellow Jackets took care of business Saturday afternoon inside the Walker Convocation Center.
“We hardly talked about it and took it one game at a time,” said West Virginia State head coach Charles Marshall. “I told them to celebrate the win over Glenville State until midnight. Then it was time to refocus, take care of business, and put all our attention on UC.”
There were multiple areas where West Virginia State blossomed. However, Marshall praised his team’s defensive effort most.
“Our effort on that end of the floor was unbelievable,” Marshall stated. “They took care of business. They outworked them, out-hustled them, and dove on the floor. That effort was amazing.”
Destiny Fields led all scorers with 21 points while shooting 64 percent from the floor. Fields has now scored in double-figures in eight straight games, while averaging 17 points during that stretch.
“She showed up against a good team when the game is on the line,” Marshall said. “When it was big games, she would not perform. However, this season, when there are big games, she is stepping up and doing what a senior is supposed to do. I am thrilled for her. She has grown every single season. It is fun seeing her be rewarded for her hard work..”
Both teams traded punches early, with the largest lead between the two being six by West Virginia State. The Yellow Jackets were held to two field goals in the final 2:21 of the opening quarter.
UC capitalized by scoring ten of the final 18 points in the first quarter. The Golden Eagles scored consecutive baskets in 16 seconds to give them the lead. However, a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Alana Kramer gave WVSU the lead after one, 25-23.
Charleston scored the opening basket, but the Yellow Jackets responded with a 7-0 run. WVSU stretched that hot start out to a 17-8 run in the first 6:52.
“Our players are motivated right now,” Marshall noted. “I think they realize they are doing something special, which has never been done for women’s basketball at the university. They believe in themselves. It is not so much what I am doing, but this is the first year a team has fully bought into what we tell them during practice.”
Former Winfield all-state selection ZZ Russell took over in the second quarter for WVSU, tallying eight of her 13 first-half points in the second quarter. Marshall had been waiting for his junior guard to piece together an impressive performance.
Russell finished the game with 17 points, including 13 in the first half.
“I thought she was under control and took control,” Marshall noted. “She keyed into it and got us into our zone offense, and we scored the bucket. I got chills seeing her do that. That has been a struggle for us, and it shows the growth of where she is. It also shows our team’s growth and ability to adjust in the game. I think we are on to something.”
The University of Charleston would try and get over the double-digit hump in the third quarter. However, the closest the Golden Eagles got was ten points with 7:38 left.
West Virginia State forced nine third-quarter turnovers, which led to 22 points off turnovers. Marshall was proud of his squad’s defensive aggressiveness from start to finish.
“Trinity [Palacio] controls their team. She is a version of a Chris Paul-type player,” stated Marshall about his team’s defensive pressure. “I did not think we would be able to turn them over as well as we did. I knew she would be key. We had to try and contain her for us to be successful. Our girls stuck with the game plan.”
Marshall was especially proud of how his team defended UC’s Dakota Reeves. Reeves is the MEC’s leader in three-point percentage. Reeves finished the game with 14 points.
“She is one of the best girls in the nation, and when you can hold her to that amount of threes for a game, then we are doing something right,” Marshall stated.
Palacio led the Golden Eagles with 18 points.