WHEELING - If Herman Pearson, coach of the undefeated and top-ranked Morgantown Trinity boys' basketball team, was hoping to see how his players would respond to a challenge on the road, the Warriors got everything they bargained for and more Monday night at Linsly's Stifel Field House.
After shooting a scorching 67 percent from the floor and leading 48-29 at halftime, Trinity saw that advantage completely evaporate in the third quarter. Akil Blount, the game's leading scorer with 29 points, Jarred Smith and Jon-Michael Brunner sparked a 25-5 run that put the Cadets in front 54-53 entering the final 8 minutes. Blount had eight of his total in the period, while Smith tossed in seven and Brunner added six points.
The Warriors (11-0) finally regained control in the closing minutes to escape with a 70-65 victory.
''This was the kind of game that makes it fun, although it can be a little tougher if you don't come out on top," Pearson said as a big smile broke across his face. ''My kids needed this.''
Although in uniform, Trinity's returning all-stater Chris Martinez never left the bench because of an ankle injury.
Both the Trinity coach and Linsly's first-year mentor James Wallace couldn't say enough about the dazzling performance turned in by Blount, the 6-foot-1 Cadets junior.
''That was the best game I have seen the kid play,'' Wallace said after watching Blount attack the basket at every opportunity.
Blount collected all but one of Linsly's 12 points in the opening quarter, starting off with a sparkling spin move that resulted in a conventional three-point play and closing the chapter with a steal and slam that had the home fans standing and clapping although it still left the Cadets behind by 24-12.
In the opening half alone, the Warriors drained eight of their 10 3-pointers, including four by Jordan Selder, and they also got 16 points from stellar 6-5 sophomore Cody Triplett.
In leading the visitors into their 19-point advantage, Triplett missed only one shot from the floor, going 8 of 9 that included a couple of trifectas.
However, the Cadets caught fire at the outset of the second half and dominated the game both offensively and defensively, forcing the Warriors into a half-dozen, third-quarter turnovers.
After dropping behind 50-29 when Triplett opened the second half with a short jumper, Linsly exploded on a 25-5 run. Blount ignited the torrid spurt with a stickback goal, then stole the ball and sailed in for a layup. Triplett, who would score all five of his team's points in the third quarter, put the lead back to 52-33 by drawing a foul on a follow attempt and hitting both free throws.
Linsly reeled off 12 points in a row, highlighted by Blount's lay-in, followed by another steal and his dish to Brunner for a transition goal. Triplett's free throw with 3 minutes to play in the quarter put the score at 53-45. Linsly (5-3) then went on another 9-0 run.
''The third quarter is the way we are capable of playing,'' Wallace insisted. ''We came out a little flat at the start of the game but that is the best team in the state.''
The lead changed hands a couple of times in the fourth quarter before Trinity went back in front to stay at 58-57 on A.J. Mayle's basket. Justin Rosier then cashed two free throws and nailed a 3-pointer after a nice kickout pass from Mayle for a 63-57 edge with 4:28 remaining.
It was nearly 3 minutes before either team scored. Linsly, probably playing on tired legs after that torrid third quarter, failed to convert on four straight opportunities after Trinity turnovers.
Finally, Smith's baseline drive cut the deficit to four points with 1:35 remaining. With time against them, the Cadets had to start fouling and Trinity got its next five points at the foul line. Triplett then scored on a breakaway with 8 seconds left increasing the lead to 70-62 before Brunner nailed another trifecta at the buzzer.
''Our legs were tired at the end that's probably why we had a couple of layups that rimmed out and a couple other almost plays,'' Wallace said.
Triplett scored 25 points and Selders followed with 18 to pace the Warriors. Brunner's 17 points backed Blount's 29-point explosion that paced the Cadets.