ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Another strong opening half helped Big Red whip Tusky Valley 69-49 Wednesday and claim a Division II sectional championship.
Up 16-10 after one (Lucas Herrington's four-point play keyed an 8-0 scoring burst), Big Red, which last wore a sectional crown in 2007, broke things open in the second quarter, outscoring the Trojans 21-6.
Three consecutive hoops from freshman Charles Reeves allowed Mike Haney's team to build a 20-point advantage (34-14). Adam Sterling knocked down nine during the quarter as Big Red drilled eight of its 12 field-goal tries. A Brandon Herring-Hill 3 at the buzzer made it 37-16 at halftime.
The winners shot 50 percent during the initial 16 minutes (12 for 24) while dishing out 10 assists. Big Red's pressure defense took its toll on the Trojans, who hit seven of 23 shots and were guilty of eight turnovers.
Steubenville's advantage reached 27 (47-20) early in the third before Haney began emptying his bench.
"It was another good win for us," Haney said following the game played inside the Health and Physical Education Building on Ohio University's Eastern campus. "In the second quarter, it seemed like our bigs beat their bigs down the floor. Charles (Reeves) had a big quarter for us.
"Dionee (Wallace Jones) came off the bench and also had a really big quarter. He got some steals (the sophomore was credited with four), pushed the ball and was able to find Charles around the basket."
Herrington's four-point play, according to Haney, gave Big Red "a little bit of life."
"It was going back and forth in the first quarter, then he hits a 3 and gets fouled," the coach noted. "We went up 13-6 and kind of got going after that.
"Defensively, I thought we really got after it in the second quarter. They were able to handle our press in the first but we were able to force some turnovers in the second and build our lead."
Big Red took the lead for good at 5-2 on Herrington's first 3. A Herring-Hill free throw put the score at 9-6 before the four-pointer. Reeves finished the 8-0 when he scored following a steal on the defensive end.
With the victory, Big Red improves to 20-3 and advances to Saturday's district semifinals against Philo, a 60-55 winner against Beaver Local in Wednesday's opener. The tip at OUE is set for 1 p.m.
The 20-victory campaign is the program's first since the 1993-1994 season when Ray Saccoccia guided Big Red to a 21-4 mark.
"We had some goals this year and one was to get 20 wins," Haney stated. "It's a tribute to the players and the assistant coaches. They do a great job. We are a senior-laden team and our seniors really give us outstanding leadership. They deserve it."
Two of the seniors paced the Big Red scoring parade. Herring-Hill finished with a game-high 16 while Sterling added 15. Reeves recorded a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds). He also blocked five shots.
Big Red finished with 18 assists (Herring-Hill, Reeves and Wallace Jones all dishing out four). The winners netted 24 of 53 tries from the floor and had eight triples. Ten of the 13 players who saw duty Wednesday cracked the scoring column.
For Tusky Valley, which finished at 8-15, Jordan Felgenhauer tallied 14 points and Charles Ackerman 10. The Trojans hoisted 51 shots, connecting on just 20.
Haney knows his Big Red will face a huge challenge Saturday.
"Philo is a very solid basketball team," he said. "They play good defense and get after it. We don't want to be their next victim."