By DAVE MORRISON
WHEELING – Trenton Smith is the first to admit his 2013 debut was inauspicious.
The Wheeling Park junior did score 10 points, but he was 0 for 6 from the 3-point line in the Patriots 64-51 victory against Preston at West Liberty.
He made amends Wednesday in Park’s 69-51 victory against visiting University in the official home opener for the Patriots.
Smith scored 21 points, including five 3 pointers and grabbed eight rebounds as Wheeling Park improved to 2-0.
Instead of spending a majority of his time fretting about a bad night, Smith did something about his opener.
“I struggled,” Smith said. “It bothered me, but I have (Park) coach (Mike) Jebbia for gym and I spent a lot of time shooting. He gave me some advice about my arc and fading away. I was doing that in the opener.”
Jebbia’s sage advice worked.
Smith hit his first two 3s and had 10 points in the first quarter. Park broke open a double-figure lead in the second and was never threatened.
“I told him to forget about (the Preston game),” Jebbia said. “(Wednesday) was a new day, and those 3s that were not going in (Tuesday night) might fall (Wednesday night). He’s a kid who, once he hits a couple early, can get on a roll. He got his confidence back. Truthfully, he didn’t play that poorly against Preston. Sometimes the shots fall. Sometimes they don’t.”
Wednesday night, they were falling.
For a lot of different players.
University made 11 3s, but attempted 39.
Colin Mitchell led the way with 16 points.
Not that was necessarily the game plan.
“We think we are a 3-point shooting team,” University coach Paul Ingle said, smiling. “I probably get a little to analytical about it. We’ve looked over the stat sheets, try to find out who is shooting well and who’s not. But it’s just the third game. I do think we can be a good shooting team. (Wednesday night), we weren’t.”
They never got into a comfort level against Park’s defense.
“They made us rush a lot of shots with their length on the perimeter,” Ingle said. “That bothered us. It was their pressure and their length.”
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” Smith said. “I thought we did a pretty good job on defense. When you have Elijah (Bell) out there, as long as he is, it’s going to cause some problems.”
Actually, it was Bell and Smith who were charged with guarding University’s Tevin Dixon, who was averaging 27 points per game.
He had three against Park, shooting 1 for 8 in the contest.
“We knew he was a good shooter and I thought Trenton and Elijah did a real good job of not letting him get comfortable, not letting him get in a rhythm,” Jebbia said. “We have some guys who are 6-foot-4 in Ryan Reinbeau and Elijah Bell and 6-5 in Phil Bledsoe and they can cause some problems for teams out on the wings.”
Offensively, the plan was to go inside.
That worked because Bledsoe, a sophomore, was so active on the boards. He finished with 12 points and 18 rebounds, including nine boards in the second quarter, as Park was building a 39-21 halftime advantage.
After that, Park would lead by as many as 20 points before settling in for the 18-point victory.
Reinbeau was consistent, finishing with 17 points and seven rebounds, the same numbers he posted in the opening-night victory and Luke Saseen had six assists.
In the game, Wheeling Park was again efficient, assisting on 17 of its 28 made field goals.
Park also outrebounded the smaller Hawks by a decided 53-34 advantage.
The numbers, and the game itself, made a believer of Ingle.
“They are a lot different from last year but not so different from Park teams from two, three years ago,” Ingle said. “Obviously, there is just one Boo Lathon, one Bubby Goodwin. But they have a lot of young guys who are really talented and they play high-level defense.”
Jebbia took a more guarded approach, which is fitting for Park.
“I think we can be a good team, but we still have a lot of areas in which to get better,” the coach said.
Smith, for one, will take the start.
“It’s a lot better than last year, when we started 1-1,” the junior said. “It’s fun. Like coach said, you might have any number of guys who will lead the team in scoring on any given night. That is a good sign.
Wednesday night was Smith’s turn.
Park (2-0) will face Winfield (3-0) Friday at the Charleston Civic Center in the FCA-sponsored Capital City Shootout.