NEW MARTINSVILLE - Victory-starved Wheeling Central was hoping to play a spoiler role against West Virginia Class AA-ranked Magnolia during Wednesday night's boys' basketball contest on the home floor of the Blue Eagles.
Despite coming in with a 1-9 record compared to Magnolia's sparkling 11-1 mark, the Maroon Knights stayed close through the first 20 minutes of play and were causing some concern for Blue Eagles coach Dave Tallman.
''I really didn't want to get into a dogfight (Wednesday) but that's what happened for a while," he said.
However, Magnolia finally exploded on a 14-0 run that carried over into the fourth quarter and Big Blue finally pulled away for a 60-43 victory.
Although six weeks remain in the regular season, it was Senior Night at Magnolia High School and Tallman did what he usually does by starting the five 12th graders on the roster. This left three of his key starters, including the 6-foot-6 junior all-stater Mark Winters on the bench until nearly half the first quarter had elapsed.
''We did start the game a little out of sync,'' Tallman said. ''We are still a work in progress and we have a long way to go. I thought Wheeling Central did a terrific job of holding us to one shot most the game. One of our strengths is getting the ball off the offensive board but they really worked on boxing us out.''
Central held the lead just once at 2-0 after Braxton Nolte opened the game with a short jumper. However, the Maroon Knights never let things get out of reach until the second half.
''We battled them," Central coach Mel Stephens said. ''I think they wore us down a little bit. Our game plan was to try and double down inside as much as we could but we were just a little bit late getting there. We knew that if we were 1-on-1 inside, they were going to win most of those of battles. We just didn't have enough size to stop them.''
The Maroon Knights scored just seven points in the first quarter and all them were provided by Nolte. Magnolia also struggled shooting the ball early and held just a 13-7 lead after the opening round.
Both Nolte and the Winters scored 15 points in the opening half that ended with Magnolia in front 28-20. Central trailed 35-28 midway through the fourth quarter when the Blue Eagles finally caught fire.
Senior Nick Blatt's nice move resulted in an easy basket off the glass to get the decisive run under way. Blatt then turned in one of his four blocks on the night at the other end, leading to a basket in transition by Jayson Keller. Zach Willhoite's stickback, Blatt's turnaround shot from down low was followed by a steal and drive for a layup by Hunter Campbell just before the buzzer giving the Blue Eagles a 45-28 lead heading into the final 8 minutes.
Campbell started the fourth quarter with two more shots from close range, the first coming off a nice feed from the high post by Blatt and the other on another turnaround move.
David Park broke the dry spell for the Maroon Knights as he sailed down the lane and hit a spin shot. Drew Keller's only basket of the game, a 3-pointer from behind the top of the circle extended the Magnolia lead to 52-30, the hosts' biggest advantage of the night.
Winters ended with 20 points and seven rebounds. Blatt had just three baskets for six points but his 10 rebounds led the Blue Eagles' effort under the glass. Campbell just missed a double-double with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Nolte's 19 points and 10 rebounds paced Central's effort. Park tossed in nine points, eight coming in the second half.
''We were in the game at halftime but we let them extended it out in the third quarter,'' Stephens said. ''I know it's wearing a little thin on our players because we aren't winning but their attitude continues to be good. Sooner or later one of those games we are going to click and hopefully that will get us on a roll for the rest of the season.''
The remainder of the Blue Eagles' regular season schedule has only two possibilities for home appearances. Magnolia will meet Ravenswood in the annual four-game Rotary Classic on Jan. 28. The Blue Eagles also have a chance to play host to a first round game in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference tournament next month.
''That is the way the schedule worked out this year," Tallman said. ''I don't mind it because I think going on the road is going to help prepare us for March."