WHEELING - Wheeling Central took the time to honor its 2002 boys' Class A state championship basketball team Saturday night before its match-up with West Virginia Class AAA power Winfield in East Wheeling.
However, after introducing most of that team and its coaching staff from 10 years ago, it was back to the reality of a youthful team that has struggled mightily while rebuilding this season.
Sophomore dandy Chris Turner gunned in a game-high 25 points and the visiting Generals built an 18-point first-quarter lead and never looked back in rolling to a lopsided 76-46 victory against the Maroon Knights on their own boards.
Wheeling Central’s Raquan Ingram looks to pass around the defense of Winfield’s Zack Fisher on Saturday.
The victory snaps a three-game losing streak for Coach Pat McGinnes' Putnam County squad, and moves them to 10-3 on the season. McGinnes' coaching staff includes a former player from that 2002 Central team, Chris Stephens, who also happens to be the son of current Maroon Knights coach Mel Stephens, who was an assistant to Dave Wojick back then.
Winfield wasted little time proving its dominance, scoring the game's initial six points, which was followed by a Braxton Nolte 3-pointer for the hosts, then ripping off 10 more for a quick 16-3 lead just four minutes in.
That lead ballooned to 25-7 at the end of the quarter with Turner already having eight and senior Cameron Powell seven.
To make matters even worse, the Generals put up the initial 11 points of the second quarter as the margin grew to 36-7 with 4:31 to play in the half. The Knights did manage to stop the bleeding a little, outscoring their guests by a 15-13 count the remainder of the half and 49-22 at the break.
It was a 31-point margin, 66-35, after three.
''We trapped a lot early and forced them into some mistakes,'' McGinnes said. ''Overall we are a lot better team when we come out and start running and we knew their situation and felt we could do that (Saturday).
''I can tell you that I have the utmost respect for Coach (Mel) Stephens and this program, they have been the premier small-school team in the state for a long time and we have seen them beat many bigger teams.
''We were also thrilled to make the trip up here for their 10th anniversary championship celebration in which Coach (Chris) Stephens was a part of.''
While Turner finished with 25, Zach Gunter and Zack Fisher added 12 apiece and Powell chipped in with 11.
''Chris Turner is just a sophomore and the sky really is the limit for him,'' McGinnes said. ''We just need to keep him listening to us and keep him working. His work ethic prior to the season was not where we wanted it to be, but it has improved greatly and you can see the results.''
Nolte had another fine outing for Wheeling Central (1-12), finishing with 19 poins while Raquan Ingram came off the bench to drop in nine for the struggling Maroon Knights. Central had a slim 29-27 edge off the glass, but turned the ball over 27 times to just 13 for Winfield.
The Generals also canned 27 of 56 attempts from the floor while there hosts were a little frigid, making just 15 of 50.
''Turnovers and shooting, it is every game for us,'' Mel Stephens said. ''We are just not strong enough to handle the basketball and while we have some good shooters, we just don't take very good shots too often.
''Winfield is a very good team that plays extremely hard and runs the floor very well. But when you are having trouble scoring and you get behind like we seem to always do, our youth comes out and we try to force things.
''Normally that just compounds them and makes it worse. The bottom line is that we just need to continue working and try to get better.''