WHEELING - Senior skywalker Boo Lathon threw down two thunder slams as undefeated Wheeling Park broke on top 18-2 during the first 4 minutes, 30 seconds and the Patriots never looked back in demolishing outmanned Wheeling Central, 95-25, on Wednesday night.
With a near-packed house looking on at the WPHS gymnasium, Coach Michael Jebbia's high-flying Park squad dominated on both ends of the court against the inexperienced Maroon Knights, who didn't return a starter from last season's team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the West Virginia Class A state tournament.
The Patriots, runner-ups two straight years in the state Class AAA tourney, led the rebounding 45-19 and their pressure defense harassed their outmanned city rival into committing as many turnovers (25) as it scored points.
Wheeling Park’s Boo Lathon (33) gets Wheeling Central’s David Park (11) in the air while wrapping a pass around to Luke Saseen (10) during action of their game Wednesday night at Wheeling Park High School.
The margin of victory was also believed to be the biggest in history for this longtime rivalry that had produced numerous down-to-the-wire battles and many upsets during the years.
Even more satisfying to Jebbia than the number of points the Patriots put on the scoreboard was the way they shared the basketball in racking up victory No. 2 on the season.
''I told the kids to come out and play as hard as we can and not worry about who gets the points," he said.
Lathon was virtually unstoppable around the basket while scoring 29 points - four more than the entire Maroon Knights team. He also speared 10 rebounds and was joined in double figures by three of his teammates. Sophomore Luke Saseen ended with 16 points while two non-starters, Na'Kwaun Phillips and Quashad Pugh, contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively.
''We had five guys in double figures in the first game and four (Wednesday night)," Jebbia said. ''I like the way we are sharing the basketball. We had 15 assists to their three. Emil Popicg, our only starter to play 20 minutes, didn't reach double figures in points but he led us in rebounds with 11 and handed out five assists."
Jebbia also noted that Errin Baynes collected seven steals, two off the school record. Andrew Kowalo came off the Park bench to pull down seven rebounds.
Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens expected his team would have tough sledding in its season debut against the highly regarded Patriots. However, he was hopeful the Maroon Knights would quickly put the one-sided loss in the rear view mirror.
''This is a good group of kids,'' Stephens insisted. ''I told them this is just the first game in a long road and we'll get better. Hopefully, they'll learn from some of the stuff we didn't do too well and be better Friday night when we play Shadyside."
Central's plan to play zone at the outset against Park certainly didn't turn out as well as Stephens'anticipated.
''I thought that by playing zone we could make them shoot jumpers but we had to rebound if they missed and that didn't work out too well.
''Whenever you play Park, it is always about rebounds and transition. We lost both of those battles."
The Patriots gathered 20 of their 45 rebounds under the offensive glass and allowed the Maroon Knights to keep just six of their own missed shots.
Early foul trouble turned out to be a problem as the Maroon Knights' tallest starter, 6-foot-2 junior Chance Siebieda, picked up three personals in the first 2:41.
Baynes, going up for a shot shortly after the Patriots won the opening tip was fouled by Siebieda. The Patriots senior cashed one of the two attempts, then stole the ball away and his lob pass to Lathon resulted in an easy layup for a 3-0 lead.
Popicg's jumper from the top of the key for his only basket made it 6-0, followed by Saseen's dish that set up Lathon's first jam. Another Baynes free throw and Lathon's one-hander put Park in front 12-0 before Brian Felton's one-hander finally got the Maroon Knights on the scoreboard with 4:32 left in the opening quarter.
Lathon's stickback and his second dunk were wrapped around a soft Bell shot off the glass, extending the Patriots advantage to 18-2. By the end of the opening quarter Lathon had 12 points and Park led 23-4.
The second quarter saw Saseen toss in nine points and Lathon continue his torrid assault with seven as the Patriots left the court with a 45-15 advantage.
''Luke Saseen, our sophomore, missed a couple shots early and we told him to keep attacking the hoop," Jebbia explained. ''He has to score for us if we're going to win."
All 11 points scored by the Maroon Knights in the second quarter came from sophomore guard David Park. He buried three straight 3-pointers and knocked down two free throws to prevent Central from being blanked in the quarter. Park wound up as the Maroon Knights only double-digit player,
After finishing the first half with 13 turnovers, the Maroon Knights didn't fare much better against the pressure applied mainly by the Patriots backups during much of the second half. The visitors scored six points in the quarter and, with their bench getting most of the playing time during the final 8 minutes, they managed only four more.
Wheeling Park added 31 points in the fourth quarter, 11 of which were scored by Pugh as he cashed all five of his field goal attempts, including a 3-pointer.
''Mel's got a very young team and I'm sure they'll be a little bit tougher the second time we play them," Jebbia said.
After opening the season with one-sided victories against University and Wheeling Central, the road begins to get a little more difficult in the Patriots' next start.
''Our two 'exhibition' games are over and we will have our hands full Saturday night against North Allegheny," Jebbia said.
''We need to play people like North Allegheny. They have an excellent team and are biggest school in Western Pennsylvania with 3,200 students."
The Patriots matchup against North Allegheny at 7:30 p.m. Saturday concludes the one-day Wheeling Park Holiday Basketball Classic. Magnolia and Union Local meet in the opener at 5:30 p.m.