WHEELING - Concerned about how his team might bounce back after Tuesday night's one-sided loss to Morgantown earlier this week, Wheeling Park boys' basketball coach Michael Jebbia heeded some words of advice from one of the Ohio Valley's all-time great high school football mentors.
The message was delivered by retired OVAC Hall of Famer Paul ''Bud" Billiard during a chance meeting with the Patriots coach earlier Friday.
''He said to me that we should use this challenge as an opportunity," said Jebbia, who didn't hesitate to pass along that message to his players prior to the's game against a red-hot Parkersburg South club that was riding a 10-game winning streak and had knocked off Wheeling Park in a triple-overtime thriller last month.
Wheeling Park’s Michael Thomas (22) drives to the basket past Parkersburg South’s Tyler Bolen on Friday.
Photo by Josh Strope
Along with that message, Jebbia delivered some serious words of his own at halftime after the host Patriots nearly frittered away a 10-point lead during the second quarter. The second half was all Wheeling Park on both ends of the floor as the Ohio County consolidated squad outscored the Wood County visitors, 37-19, while rolling to a 63-44 victory.
Boo Lathon, one of five seniors getting the starting call, poured in 22 points and yanked down 15 rebounds in sparking Wheeling Park to its sixth victory in the last seven games and victory No. 12 overall against five defeats.
''I'm really proud of the way our seniors stepped up in the second half," Jebbia said.''They've played a lot of ball here over the last four years. They stuck together, took some good shots and stayed strong on defense."
One non-senior starter, Lee Peluchette, came off the bench and provided a huge lift offensively and defensively, scoring seven points and also helping underneath the glass.
''Lee defended well and hit some big shots," Jebbia said.
The host Patriots started well as back-to-back 3-pointers by the USC track and field signee Errin Baynes put them in front 6-5 three minutes in.
With Lathon scoring seven points in the opening quarter and guard Emil Popicg banking in a long-distance trifecta just ahead of the buzzer, Wheeling Park doubled the score on Parkersburg South (12-6) in opening a 20-10 advantage.
The second quarter, however, was a complete nightmare, especially during the last minute when South's Doug Dennis cashed two straight 3-pointers, pulling Coach Mike Fallon's team within 26-25. A rushed shot instead of running out the clock before the half was followed by a bad-choice foul with 3 seconds left that gave the Parkersburg invaders a chance to go in front.
However, Wes Mitchem's front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity bounced off the rim and Park entered the locker room with its lead barely intact.
''The last 15 seconds of the half might have been the worst basketball in 35 years here,'' Jebbia claimed.
After hitting 3 of 18 shots in the second quarter, Park regrouped and reeled off a 10-2 run to open the third quarter. Jebbia's club outscored Parkersburg South, 18-8, in the quarter to regain a double-digit advantage. Peluchette's 3-pointer from out top restored Park's lead to eight and was followed by Baynes' sparkling conventional three-point play off the dribble that extended the advantage to 44-33 entering the fourth quarter.
Lathon exploded for 11 points during the final eight minutes to help put the game away. South did get within 49-41 after a Mitchem 3-pointer but Lathon exploded to score six points within a minute, beginning with a putback goal, two free throws and a rim-to-rim drive after pulling down a rebound at the other end and beating everybody down the floor for a layup.
Baynes followed his senior classmate Lathon with 17 points, while Parkersburg South's only scorer in double figures was Mitchem as he tossed in 17 points.
''It seemed like we got sped up a little bit in the second half and that got us out of our flow," Fallon said. ''Coach Jebbia does a great job and he made some adjustments at halftime that hurt us.
''We had a good little run going with that 10-game winning streak and we knew coming in here this is a tough place to win. They play so well at home and we just did not do the little things we needed to do against a good basketball team.''
The games against Morgantown and Parkersburg South earlier this week began a meat-grinder final portion of the schedule for Wheeling Park. Jebbia's players are back on the home floor tonight against Logan prior to facing Morgantown for the third time in the OVAC 5A semifinals next Tuesday. Less than 24 hours later, they go up against No. 1-ranked Class AAA power South Charleston at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
''Morgantown and South Charleston appear to be a step ahead of everybody right now," Jebbia said. ''After those two, there are also nine-to-11 teams capable of making a serious run if they get to Charleston. Last year there might have been only four or five teams overall with a chance.''