Boys’ Basketball: Fast Start Keys Magnolia, 82-71

WHEELING – Those who wrote off Magnolia after an 0-3 start may hope it was done in pencil.

The Blue Eagles erased any talk of their demise Friday.

Preston Boswell scored 27 points to lead a quartet of double figure scorers in the Blue Eagles’ victory against Class A No. 2 Wheeling Central at the Wheeling Central Gymnasium.

Magnolia jumped out to a lead that reached as much as 21 points before Central staged a furious rally that fell short.

“No doubt about it, this was a huge win,” Magnolia coach Dave Tallman said. “This is one that the voters will have to look at when it comes to regional seeding. To come in here and beat a great team like Wheeling Central is huge.”

Tallman got exactly what he wanted most of the night, as Spencer Campbell led a furious start with 12 of his 16 points.

Behind Campbell, who was 5 of 6 from the floor in the opening quarter, Magnolia raced out to 24-11 lead and it grew to 20 at the break, 49-29.

“I’m not real surprised (by the win),” said Boswell, a sophomore point guard who had 10 of his points in the second quarter. “It’s a big win. They are the big dogs in Class A and we were just trying to get to .500. After we lost (first-team all-state captain) Mark (Winters) everybody thought we were going to have a down year, but we have a bunch of great players here and everybody stepped up (Friday night).”

That’s exactly what Magnolia needed against Central.

Magnolia time and again limited the Maroon Knights to one shot, and its transition kept the game flowing at a frenetic pace.

Zach Willhoite, who had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and two blocked shots, was dominant inside along with sophomore Mitchell Winters, who had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Showing the resolve of a state tournament semifinalist, the Maroon Knights battled back, causing their own brand of chaos with a pressing defense that allowed them to slowly claw back in the game.

Twice, with senior leader Willhoite in foul trouble, Central fought back.

David Park ended the third with a 3-pointer at the buzzer and then had four points to start the fourth to cut the lead to 63-50.

Winters finally broke the run with a putback before Boyd Bibey, who had five 3-pointers and 15 points, hit a 3. Winters again answered with an old-fashioned three-point play to make it a 13-point game.

With 5:48 remaining, Willhoite picked up his fifth foul.

“I should have had him out of the game at that point,” Tallman said. “That was my fault. I think it was just a lack of experience out there with (Willhoite) out.”

Central went on a last run, cutting it to single figures. But Boswell had a pair of free throws and a steal and lay-in with 1:48 remaining to seal it.

“The kid (Boswell) wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line,” Tallman said. “And I can’t say enough about the play of Mitch (Winters) down the stretch. He stepped up and did a great job (with six of his eight points in the fourth). Chase Miller did a great job on defense.

“They have a great team, you know Park and (Chase) Harler are going to score. Then Alonzo (Manns) was the MVP of the Cancer Research Classic, we had to honor him.”

The Blue Eagles were able to hold Manns, saddled with foul trouble, in check, limiting him to seven points, but Bibey picked up that slack with his 15.

“They (Magnolia) played well; they shot the ball well,” Central coach Mel Stephens said. “We really couldn’t get things clicking. We dug ourselves a hole and sometimes when you dig a hole that deep it’s hard to climb out. You make a run but you expend so much energy trying to get back in it you hit another lull. That’s what happened.”

Park finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Harler had 19.

“This is going to help us down the road,” Stephens said. “We do place a big emphasis on these (sectional and regional) games and it is a step backward. We will learn that you can’t come out sluggish against anyone and dig yourself a hole.”

For Tallman, his young team is starting to come together.

“I’ve got to give my kids credit,” Tallman said. “They played great basketball, did what they had to do and came out with a victory against a very, very good team.”