WHEELING - Wheeling Central's boys' basketball team has finally found its groove.
After losing seven of their first nine games, the Maroon Knights have won six of their last seven.
The latest triumph came inside a packed Stifel Field House on Friday night, where Wheeling Central rode a strong first half to a convincing 72-57 victory against Linsly.
Wheeling Central’s Chase Harler (14) sets up a play during Friday night’s game.
''We're 8-8 and that's been our goal,'' Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said. ''We had an opportunity at Trinity last week, but stubbed our toe.
''We played well at John Marshall the other night and played very well against a good Linsly team.''
Especially in the first half.
The Maroon Knights exploded for 44 points and a 13-point lead behind 19 from David Park, who finished with 31, and 12 by freshman sensation Chase Harler, who totaled 23.
Park drained six 3-pointers during the first two quarters, a half where Central shot 16 of 26 from the field, including an 8 of 10 effort in the second.
''That first half was without a doubt the best we've shot the ball all year,'' Stephens said. ''Everything we were shooting was going in.''
Not everything. But it sure felt that way.
Park was taking care of the outside shooting, while Harler was controlling the tempo almost by himself.
''That's the type of kid he is,'' Stephens said of Harler. ''He can create his own shot or create shots for other guys.''
Harler did both during the first 16 minutes. He helped key a pair of runs that put the game away early.
The first came in the opening quarter, when the Maroon Knights went on a 11-3 tear that saw a one-point lead grow to nine.
Then, in the second quarter, Park and Harler had all but two points of a 17-6 burst that gave Central a 39-26 lead.
Central's ability to dictate the pace offensively and defensively was a far cry from it's 59-44 loss to the Cadets on December 18 in East Wheeling.
''It was kind of ironic,'' Stephens said. ''We kind of turned the tables on them. Chase was able to drive the ball down the middle and get some baskets and get a few of their guys in serious foul trouble.
''We thought dribble penetration was the key the last time we played. They were able to do a lot of that and (Friday) we went into a zone to try and take that away.''
''They had a good gameplan,'' Linsly coach James Wallace said. ''We just could never find a comfort level or a rhythm on offense.
''They came out and took it to us right off the bat. Give them credit and give Coach Stephens credit. They're guys were ready and hungry.''
One of the players who benefited from Harler's creating shots was Brandon Wallace. Wallace scored the final seven points of the first half for Central, the last three coming on a three-point play as the buzzer sounded.
Central led by as many as 16 points.
The Cadets (7-9) pulled to within eight at 57-49 early in the second half, but got no closer thanks in part to Central's 12 of 19 performance from the free-throw line in the final quarter. Park was 9 of 12 during the period, which was almost equal to Linsly's output for the game (10 of 13).
Toddy Goodwin-Rowe and Jabri Blount both scored 15 points for Linsly, with Anthony Wallace adding 13.