WEST CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) — For the third time in the last five years, the West Chester University men’s basketball team is headed to the Division II NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Rams are the #6 seed in the Atlantic Region and they will open up the tournament on Saturday when they take on the #3 seed Wheeling Jesuit down in Ettrick, Virginia.
West Chester earned an at-large bid after losing in the quarterfinals of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament to Shippensburg.
“The kids are excited, I’m excited,” West Chester head coach Damien Blair tells KYW Newsradio. “We’ve got new life. Another opportunity to try to win a championship.”
West Chester brings a 21-6 record into the tournament. Blair talks about what has allowed them to have that kind of success.
“I think it’s our chemistry and our depth,” he says. “Any guy from 1 to 14 [on the roster] can come out on the floor and contribute. And we’ve seen that throughout the course of the year. We’ve had three or four freshmen that have stepped up big in some crucial times throughout the course of this season. And we have some seasoned vets in [senior guard] Tyrell Long, [junior forward] Jackson Hyland and [junior guard] Matt Penecale that have carried us through some of those tough road wins that we’ve had throughout the course of the year.”
West Chester averages 86.2 points per game. Long leads the team with an average of 19.6 points a contest. Hyland checks in at 16.4 ppg.
Wheeling Jesuit is 26-5 and the champion of the Mountain East Conference. They will bring a nine-game winning streak into Saturday’s game.
“They’re tough,” Blair says. “They’re tough on both ends of the floor. They drive it really well. Their four and fives can step out and knock down perimeter shots and I think that’s what makes them a very formidable opponent. Because most bigs are down on the block and you’re trying to feed them the entire game. These guys can score it on the block and they can score it on the perimeter. Then if you misplay those guys, their guards drive it really well and can knock down the three as well.”
One of those bigs for the Cardinals is 6’7” senior forward Haywood Highsmith who is averaging 21.9 points and 12.5 rebounds a game. He is shooting 41% from three.
While the Golden Rams are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament, they are still looking for the first tourney win in program history. West Chester is 0-9 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
West Chester and Wheeling Jesuit are slated for a noon start on Saturday. The winner of this game plays the winner of East Stroudsburg and Gannon in the second round on Sunday.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @Mattleon1060.