By DAVE MORRISON
WEST LIBERTY - Elijah Bell may not be a stat-sheet filler right now.
Wheeling Park’s Toddy Goodwin-Roe (22) dribbles around the guard Preston’s Brandon Black.
The lanky Wheeling Park sophomore had five points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and a blocked shot and had zero turnovers Tuesday in the Patriots' season-opening 72-54 victory against Preston at the ASRC.
However, Bell made those statistics count.
For starters, in the last 30 seconds of the first quarter, with the Knights content to take a last shot down one, he had two of his steals, both led to runouts to help Wheeling Park take a 23-18 lead.
In the second quarter, Bell had his blocked shot, on a Jimmy Galusky 3-point attempt, which he retrieved and fed to a teammate for a 27-21 Park lead.
That got Wheeling Park started and the rest went according to coach Mike Jebbia's opening-night script.
Four players scored in double figures, led by Ryan Reinbeau and Phil Bledsoe with 17 each in the convincing opening-night victory.
Park shot 53.6 percent from the field and had 15 assists on its 30 (30 of 56) made field goals.
"I was really pleased with the way we shared the ball," Jebbia said. "We have a lot of nice pieces and if we continue to share the ball like we did, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team."
Reinbeau put it another way.
"We are going to be a pretty balanced team," said Reinbeau, who was 5 of 9 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, with seven rebounds. "If we share the ball like we did, it's going to take a pretty good team to beat us."
Preston (1-2) isn't quite there, yet.
Coach Barry Sanders, while pleased with some aspects of his team's performance, pointed to Bell's two steals as an early turning point.
"We got a little lackadaisical at that point," Sanders said. "We were willing to hold it there, get a last shot, but Park didn't allow us to do that. They were more athletic than we were, they were a little bigger than we were. And it showed in some places."
Galusky, a second-team all-stater last year, who has signed to play baseball at West Virginia, entered the game averaging 27 points and shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Tuesday night he had 22 points and 12 rebounds, leading the game in both categories, but was 9 of 26 from the field, taking nearly half his team's shots.
"We wanted to make him work for everything he got," Jebbia said. "And for the most part, we did that."
Bell, who came off the bench and played 14 minutes, said that is one of his major contributions.
"I want to come in and bring some hustle and enthusiasm," Bell said. "My main thing is defense. When I come in I usually guard the other team's best player. I take a lot of pride in that."
"He's only a sophomore but he doesn't play like it," Reinbeau said. "He is always going to give us solid defense and he contributes on the offensive end. But that defense he plays ... he's probably up there with the top defenders in the state."
Understandable, since he was a starter for Wheeling Park's Class AAA semifinal squad in football.
"It's just like football," Jebbia said. "You enter the season thinking he can do it, then the season rolls around and Bam! He does it."
Park clearly had too much on opening night for Preston, which battled mightily to stay in the game.
The game flowed in runs early.
Park led initially 10-2, when Reinbeau hit his first two 3-point attempts.
"That was big," Reinbeau said. "Having not played here, you are concerned about the depth perception because of the backdrop. To hit the first two gave me a lot of confidence. You want that as a shooter."
Whatever chance the Knights had vanished in the third quarter, when Park outscored Preston 14-3.
Luke Saseen, who had 12 points and four assists, had eight straight to break the game open and give Park a 20 point lead.
"We really needed a good third quarter, but when it was over, the writing was pretty much on the wall," Sanders said. "Credit Park. They have an outstanding basketball team. And we are going to get better."
Trenton Smith also hit double figures for Park with 10 points.
All in all, it was just about what Jebbia had hoped for going into the opener.
"We shared the ball better than I thought in our scrimmage (against Fairmont)," the coach said. "We had a goal of committing 12 or fewer turnovers and we did that (Park had eight). It was a good start."
Of course, there was at least one area the coach saw which could use improvement.
"We need to rebound better," Jebbia said. "We didn't do a good job with that. We'll get better. It's just the opener."
And it went off without a hitch, just as it was scripted.
Park will open it's home schedule tonight hosting University.