MOUNDSVILLE - Twas two nights before Christmas but the Magnolia and John Marshall boys' basketball coaches weren't exactly exhibiting a holiday mood while watching their teams play Friday evening.
For Bill Storm, the bench boss of the struggling Monarchs, the night was even more frustrating as his team was charged with six unforced errors and connected on just 8 of 38 shots from the floor.
Dave Tallman, mentor of the undefeated Blue Eagles, had a difficult time maintaining his composure stalking the sideline while waiting for the visitors to get their usually potent offense in high gear.
John Marshall’s Justin Wade (13) prepares to go up for a shot while Magnolia’s Zach Wilhoite defends Friday in Moundsville.
Photo by Josh Strope
Magnolia (4-0) finally drew even at 17-17 late in the first half, then came out with a little fire in the third quarter to eventually pull away for a 49-28 victory.
''No excuses,'' Tallman insisted, ''But I told them at halftime that on any level, professional, college, high school, when you play a big rival (River), it is hard to get going the next night. Down the road, when you get into tournament play, you have to be able to bring your 'A' game every night. I thought we played a little better offensively the second half but we played pretty good defense the whole game.''
Added a disappointed Storm: ''I don't know what to tell you. We only had 14 (points) at Weirton in the first half, so it has been this way.
"Usually (Justin) Wade scores for us. When he has trouble scoring, we can't win.''
Wade, John Marshall's 6-foot-5 in bruiser inside, tallied only eight points on just 3-for-9 from the floor and an even worse 2-for-9 at the free-throw line.
Magnolia had enough size around the basket to keep Wade from taking only a few uncontested shots. The Blue Eagles also received a big lift inside by some rock solid defensive play from Nick Blatt. The senior forward used his long arms effectively to block five shots. His contributions to the victory also included nine points and seven rebounds.
''Nick really did a nice job against Wade," Tallman said. ''He worked his tail off. When he got in a little foul trouble, he was able to work his way through it.''
Magnolia's early offensive woes playing against the John Marshall zone resulted in returning all-stater Mark Winters taking nearly the entire first half before finally getting into the scoring column. He swished his first basket after a nice post-up move with 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter, trimming John Marshall's lead to two points. Blatt then knocked the ball loose and Tanner Hanna drove for the layup that sent both teams off the court in the 17-17 stalemate at the intermission.
Winters went on to score 10 points in the second half to finish with 12, while sophomore Zach Wilhoite threw down 10 points and matched Blatt's total of seven rebounds.
''We really haven't had trouble playing against a zone before (Friday),'' Tallman said. ''I thought we got some wide-open looks and just didn't make them. In other games if we missed the shot, we would go get the offensive rebound and put it back in. Our kids have to learn to go after the ball hard every time.''
The Monarchs had their 3-pointers working in the opening quarter, as Derek Och, recently promoted from the reserve team to take over the point guard spot, drained back-to-back triples as John Marshall jumped in front 6-3. On another trifecta attempt, Tanner Filben was fouled and cashed all three free throws. Filben came back a minute later to connect on a 3-pointer to help John Marshall take the lead 14-8 heading into the second quarter.
After a 4-for-8 opening quarter shooting the basketball, John Marshall made only 1 of 9 from the field during the second quarter. But it was one of the Monarchs many unforced errors that irritated Storm the most.
''We were up 17-13 with the ball late in the half but we throw it in the bleachers. That wasn't the only time we did it," Storm said.
Blatt got open from the baseline and cashed a one-hander to give the Blue Eagles the lead to stay at 19-17 in the second half. After Wade hit 1 of 2 from the foul line, Hunter Campbell scored on a follow shot and Wilhoite drove the baseline for another basket that extended the lead to 23-18. Winters' pull-up jumper, Jayson Keller's transition hoop and another Winters basket on a give-and-go move sent Magnolia into a double-digit advantage for the first time.
At the end of the third quarter, Blatt sandwiched back-to-back rebounds goals around an Och basket for the Monarchs. Magnolia carried a 35-22 lead into the final 8 minutes and reached a game-high 23-point advantage at 49-26 on a Winters 3-pointer with more than 2 minutes to play. The subs then finished out the game for both teams.
Another big concern for Tallman was Magnolia's 4 of 16 effort at the foul line.
''The one thing we really have to improve on is our free-throw shooting," he said. ''We can't win big games with foul shooting like that. We are big and we are going to get fouled a lot.''
John Marshall's leading scorer was Filben, who notched eight of his 10 points during the first quarter.