WELLSBURG - After a slow start, Wheeling Park turned up the heat on defense, which generated a multitude of second-half layups and dunks and gave the top Class AAA team in the state an easy 64-39 victory against Brooke on Friday night.
The Bruins (3-4), who went into the game riding a three-game winning streak, battled in the first half and were up by seven points early in the second quarter. After a 16-3 Patriots run to end the first half, Brooke found itself down by six at halftime, 27-21.
"We hung in there in the first half and our kids played hard," Brooke coach Dave Reitter said. "But, you know the thing is, we tell our kids they have to play four quarters.
"You have to give Michael Jebbia and his staff all the credit in the world because they did what they had to do and suddenly it became a track meet in the second half."
Brooke's Eric Johnson sparked his team, scoring 16 points. The 6-foot-2 junior also led all rebounders with 11 off the glass for a double-double.
However, it was Park senior Demetrius "Boo" Lathon who stole the show. Jebbia didn't start his star forward because of a team rule violation, but when he entered the game in the second quarter it jump-started the Patriots.
"Once he came in he got things started and that's what a senior and captain is supposed to do," Jebbia said. ''He's been our leading scorer all year long and I thought he delivered straight energy when he went in."
Lathon contributed five points in that second-quarter run and also led a 20-0 run to open the third quarter that put the game away for Wheeling Park. He scored nine of his game-high 22 points in the third period and he punctuated his scoring with two dunks.
Brooke was down 11-9 after the first quarter, but Johnson opened the second period with a 3 and a short jumper. Hunter Wallace and Vinny Prizzuti followed with field goals, giving the Bruins an 18-11 lead with 5:46 left before the half.
Enter Lathon and the start of a Wheeling Park blitz that saw them outscore the Bruins by 36-3 during the rest of the second quarter and all but 1:32 of the third.
Brooke came out of the halftime locker room stone cold. It didn't score until senior Nick Breen made two foul shots with 1:32 left on the clock. Johnson followed with his second 3-pointer, but the Bruins were outscored by 23-5 in the third stanza.
Jebbia said that Brooke's changing defenses along with looking ahead to playing one of the top high school teams in the country today in the Cancer Research Classic gave his team trouble in the first half.
"This is the first of several back-to-back weekends with games for us and we have a big game (today) so as much as you tell the kids one thing, they do look ahead." Jebbia said of his team's flat start. "But Brooke had won three in a row and they were confident coming in. They want to beat Wheeling Park just like all the local teams we play now that we've won some games over the past couple of years. We have a target on our backs."
Errin Baynes, who also got a flush, scored 16 points and Emil Popcig chipped in with 12, including two 3-pointers.
With their third-period blitz, the Patriots took a commanding 50-26 lead into the final quarter.
"They took us out of our ball game in the second half," Reitter said. "We can't get in a track meet with a team like Wheeling Park. We were able to keep the tempo in the first half like we wanted and we got a fast break once in a while. We have to play our game and not get wrapped up in what Wheeling Park was doing, but we'll hang tough, put this game on the back burner for a while and get ready for the next one."
Wallace came off the Brooke bench to score eight points a haul down seven rebounds. Pizzuti chipped in with six points.
The Bruins outrebounded the taller Patriots by 31-29. Park took a total of 66 shots and made 24 of them, while the Bruins were able to get just 46 shots off making 14.
Brooke travels to Indian Creek Tuesday while the 6-1 Patriots play St. Joseph Prep today.