CHARLESTON - Mel Stephens said the first half Wednesday afternoon against Magnolia was the best pair of quarters his team strung together all season.
Freshman guard Chase Harler shook his head in agreement.
There was no doubt No. 7 Wheeling Central came to play from the start in a 58-35 thrashing of No. 2 Blue Eagles in a West Virginia Class A boys' tournament quarterfinal at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
Wheeling Central’s Jonathan Droginski prepares to put up a shot as Magnolia’s Zach Wilhoite defends during their W.Va. Class A boys’ state tournament quarterfinal.
By the time the first 16 minutes concluded, the Maroon Knights (14-12) led by 20. They held Magnolia (21-5), a team that averaged nearly 80 points per game, to two first-quarter points. They shot 62 percent from the floor, had a 19-9 rebounds edge, and David Park, with five, had already canned more 3-pointers on his own than the Blue Eagles would as a team by game's end.
It was the type of thing you might expect to see from a two-seed against a seven. But rarely is the seven-seed doing all of the heavy lifting.
"We felt getting off to a good start was a key," Stephens said. "We got off to a better start than I could have imagined and probably any of these guys could have imagined," speaking of Park, Brandon Wallace, and Harler, who joined him in the media room to take some questions.
"We shot the ball really and we defended better than we have all year. It was just one of those days where evidently everything was lined up in the right spot where it needed to be and we went out and played really well."
Wallace, who was 6 of 8 from the field and finished with 16 points, tipped in the first basket of the game and Wheeling Central never trailed.
The lead reached double digits at the 1:46 mark of the first quarter. It was 20 just before halftime on a Wallace layup. The Knights had a 31-point lead, their highest of the game, with 3:14 left in the final quarter.
"The longer that lead stayed up there, the more pressure was on them knowing they were expected to win and they were going to have to come back from that big deficit," Stephens said.
Through it all, Magnolia coach Dave Tallman was beside himself. In trying to figure out what happened, he said he didn't know five times during his postgame comments.
"I have no explanation," he said. "We try to hold our opponents under 60 points. We did that; we held them to 58. Where the offense was, I have no idea.
"It's basketball. I told them, it happens to the (L.A.) Lakers, it happens to Duke and (Wednesday) it happened to Magnolia."
Like it never had.
The 35 points were seven fewer than Magnolia scored in any game all season. And that game came with starting guard Stephen Rogalski on the bench with an injury. The Blue Eagles, who didn't make their second basket Wednesday until the game was nearly 10 minutes old, shot 26 percent from the floor. This from a team that scored 96 in its last outing and had scored 90 or more seven times.
"Shocked," Tallman said. "We just couldn't get any kind of rhythm going."
Park had 15 of his 26 points by halftime for the Maroon Knights. He added 12 rebounds to finish off a double-double.
"David Park, what a first-half performance," Tallman said. "It was as about as good as I've seen down here."
Park said making the first one was the key.
"The first one went in so I just kept shooting," Park said. "My teammates were giving me the ball when I was open so I just let it fly."
Harler added 10 points for the Maroon Knights.
Magnolia's Mark Winters, a 2,000-point scorer, finished with 20 in his final prep game. He concluded a four-year career that saw his teams advance to Charleston all four years, but never win a game in it.
"It (stinks)," Winters said. "I told everyone we couldn't take them lightly. This was going to be the toughest they've ever played us. And this is what happened."