WHEELING - Rebounding from its first loss of the season at Morgantown last week, the Wheeling Park boys' basketball team played well in spurts Wednesday night in rolling past visiting John Marshall, 75-51.
Facing a Monarchs squad that has had trouble scoring points this season, the Patriots' pressure defense dominated early by stealing the ball seven times in the first quarter while jumping out to a 19-5 advantage. The lead was never below 12 points the rest of the way, although John Marshall finally showed some signs of an effective offense when it was able to beat the press and get the ball inside to burly senior Justin Wade.
Wade muscled his way around the basket to score 19 points, dropping in 8 of 11 field goal attempts.
Wheeling Park’s Errin Baynes looses control of the ball as John Marshall’s Tyler Brautigan (30) defends.
Photo by Josh Strope
Overall, the Monarchs (1-5) connected on 21 of 43 attempts.
''We only scored 40 on Weir and 28 on Magnolia," John Marshall coach Bill Storm said. ''After those two games, I'm somewhat pleased. The game got out of hand but it could have been a lot worse''.
Turnovers told a big story in why John Marshall couldn't keep it close as the quick-handed, quick-footed Patriots forced the Marshall County invaders into 25 turnovers. Park turned it over just 10 times, although Coach Michael Jebbia saw to it that his backups saw plenty of action.
The Patriots had three double-figure scorers, sparked by Boo Lathon's 24 points and nine rebounds. Vondell Bell was charted with seven steals, including four during the opening 8 minutes. Bell also pulled down eight rebounds to go with 18 points. Luke Saseen finished with 10 points as the Patriots improved their record to 4-1 heading into Friday night's home floor showdown against undefeated George Washington (4-0).
This will be a rematch of last year's West Virginia Class AAA state final which saw the Charleston area squad rally in the closing minutes to win the Battle of the Patriots.
''At times, we were a little lethargic," Jebbia said. ''The time off over Christmas might have been part of it and the kids knew we had another big game coming up on Friday.
''There were some good spots. We didn't turn the ball over a whole lot but there were times when we didn't have the energy we should have.
''John Marshall made some shots. I know they've played a couple of games where they didn't score a lot of points but Bill Storm always gets them better as the season goes on. I would think this team is going to be tougher the next time we play them.''
The Monarchs never led as the Patriots scored the first nine points. Michael Thomas's feed up court to Saseen for a layup put Park up 2-0. Lathon cashed the back end of a two-shot foul that was followed by a Bell steal and assist pass to Saseen for another layup that made put the score at 5-0.
While Thomas didn't score in his first varsity start this season, the junior guard's defensive pressure and four steals also had a lot to do with the Patriots' early run. After a John Marshall timeout, he knocked the ball loose and fed Bell for another drive to the basket. A few seconds later, Thomas' lob pass inside resulted in a Lathon jam and a 9-0 lead
Wade muscled his way up inside to finally get John Marshall on the scoreboard with 4:13 left in the opening quarter. However, triples from Bell and Emil Popicg extended the advantage to 14 heading into the second quarter.
The Monarchs, behind Wade's eight points, found some offense in the second round but Park still extended the lead to 36-20 at the half. In the third quarter, Lathon tossed in 11 points to offset a couple of treys from Monarch sophomore Tanner Filben. The Patriots carried a 57-34 advantage into the final eight minutes, allowing Jebbia to again extend the playing time of his backups.
''We did OK on Wade in the first quarter when we got some steals, but he is so big and tough inside,'' Jebbia said.
Storm was pleased with the play of his main scorer.
''I thought he sealed pretty well and we made some nice passes in to him. But we also had too many dumb passes trying to force it inside nothing was there," Storm said.
The Monarchs' coach main concerns continue to be protecting the basketball and finding another offensive threat in the backcourt.
''I thought Derek Och handled himself pretty well but that Thomas kid puts a lot of pressure on the ball," Storm noted.