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Long winning streak captured the state’s interest in 1988-89

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Dec 11, 2020

Gale Catlett coached WVU's basketball team to 13 20-win seasons, prior to his 2002 retirement. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The steel gray clouds hung low over Morgantown, as the month of December set up camp alongside the turgid Monongahela River.

West Virginia had just lost two of its first three games in the 1988-89 basketball season. And both losses were in the Coliseum to Robert Morris and Bradley — two teams never mentioned in any conversations about potential national champions that season.

Was this going to be a season in the Atlantic 10 of scattered wins and too many rough-edge losses?

The wintry clouds didn’t part from Morgantown, but the Mountaineers of Coach Gale Catlett soon had people talking about a budding winning streak the Mountaineers tore off on throughout the rest of December and then in January.

Before losing again, Catlett’s team ran off a 22-game winning streak and many in the basketball world began to focus on the 23-2 record of the Mountaineers.

The most celebrated wins in that streak of success were an overtime victory on the road at Pittsburgh, Pa., beating Maryland at Cole Fieldhouse, stopping Temple in Morgantown, slamming Penn State, 100-67 in Morgantown, and nipping Charlotte in overtime in Charlotte, N.C.

The lengthy winning streak ended just before the regular season closed. In the shadows at McGonigle Hall, the Mountaineers were tripped by Temple.

The Mountaineer starters that season were senior Herbie Brooks, a popular guard from Mullens High in Wyoming County, junior Steve Berger from hidden-away Boomer, forward Chris Brooks from The Bronx, N.Y., senior Darryl Prue from Washington, D.C. and 6-foot-10 Ray Foster from Cleveland, Ohio.

Herbie Brooks led the balanced scoring, with Berger, Brooks and Prue also scoring in double figures.

First-line reserves were freshman Tracy Shelton, from Oak Hill, and senior Wade Smith, from the Virgin Islands.

No other players averaged over one point a game, but freshman Chris Leonard, sophomore Shaun Jackson, sophomore Mike Yoest, freshman Steve Hardwick and sophomore Rod Samuel had their moments.

In the Atlantic 10 standings, West Virginia stood astride all comers, with its 17-1 conference record.

The league tournament was held at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Pa., the city-home of Temple University.

West Virginia eliminated St. Joseph’s (another Philadelphia college), but fell in the next round to Penn State by a thunderous 86-64 score.

When the NCAA tournament selections were revealed, the Mountaineers were a No. 7 seed, even with a 25-4 overall record.

The Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina was West Virginia’s NCAA destination. Regrouped enough to stop Tennessee, West Virginia’s 1988-89 season was ended by Duke in the next fatal round.

What had been a full-of-cracks beginning to the season had been quickly replaced by a frosted-with-icing 22-game winning streak and a regular season conference championship.

An overall record of 26-5 was one of the best in coach Catlett’s coaching days back in Morgantown.