WHEELING - With Linsly trailing Wheeling Central by a point early in the fourth quarter of their boys' basketball tilt Tuesday night, Cadets assistant and defensive guru James Cowart made a suggestion to head man James Wallace.
''He said, 'Let's go to match-up zone,' '' Wallace recalled. ''That rattled them a bit and they weren't expecting it. It was right out of a timeout and it really turned the tide.''
From that point, Linsly outscored Wheeling Central 12-5 and went on to post a thrilling 70-64 triumph before a packed house at the Maroon Knights' gym.
PHOTO BY JIM ELLIOTT
Linsly defender Colton Coss tries to draw a charge on Wheeling Central’s Braxton Nolte on Tuesday night. A block was called on the play.
''When Linsly and Central play there's always a little bit of emotion and a lot of drive,'' Wallace said. ''There aren't too many games where you'll see two teams work like that.''
It was difficult to fathom by the way they were playing, that both teams entered the game winless.
The Maroon Knights were coming off a tough loss against Shadyside, while the Cadets fell short last weekend against WPIAL champion Monessen Senior.
Even in the loss Saturday, Wallace saw signs of improvement.
''Our kids come to work every day,'' he said. ''They are a young group and they play hard.''
While Linsly's youngsters played a role in Tuesday's victory, it was its returning letterwinners - Akil Blount and Anthony Wallace - that took control.
Wallace, a sophomore, exploded for a game-high 34 points, while Blount, the talented senior, added 24.
''The difference was, obviously, 58 points came from Akil and Anthony,'' Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said.
''That's two guys they have back, which is what we're missing right now. We just don't have that experience coming back.''
Wallace and Blount really did their damage in the second half.
Of the Cadets' 35 second-half points, Wallace had 17, Blount scored 16 and Toddy Goodwin-Rowe had two on a pair of free throws.
''Even though we gave up 58 points to those two guys, they pretty much had to work for all of them,'' Stephens said. ''We did the best we could on them. Even though they scored that many, we were right in the game.''
Wallace made the second of two free throws to tie the score at 59-59 with 4:48 remaining.
Moments later, Central's David Park, who finished with 13 points, fired up a jumper. It missed, but Jordan Hartman snared the rebound, went back up, scored and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Central (0-3) went up 61-59.
With 3:35 left, Hartman returned to the line where he made 1 of 2 to give the Maroon Knights a 62-59 advantage.
Following a Linsly (1-3) turnover and a Central missed jumper, Wallace nailed a bucket to tie the game at 61-61.
With 2:08 left, Wallace was fouled. He made both free throws to give Linsly a 63-62 lead.
On Central's ensuing possession, guard Raquan Ingram missed a medium-range jumper, but Braxton Nolte converted the putback to give the Central the lead again, 64-63.
Wallace continued his torrid fourth quarter with 1:30 left when he drained another jumper to give Linsly the lead for good, 65-64.
''The kids' effort was great out there,'' Stephens said. ''It was just two pretty good teams. We both might be young, but we're getting better. They just made a few plays down the stretch and were able to pull it out.''
Linsly was playing without starter Jameson Murray, who was injured in practice Monday.
''Akil does a great job at being a leader and Anthony is emerging as one,'' Coach Wallace said. ''Both of those guys have been in these situations before and they know how to handle them.''
Nolte paced Central with 24 yeoman-like points. Hartman finished with nine.
''Many guys stepped up and made plays,'' Stephens said. ''That's what were going to need. It might be a different person every night, but we're going to need the whole group to contribute.''