Wheeling Jesuit Earns First MEC Final Berth
Highsmith Grabs Another Double-Double
CHARLESTON – Wheeling Jesuit players and coaches looked on one night earlier as Concord’s Tommy Bolte dropped a Mountain East Conference Tournament-record 51 points in an upset of third-seeded Fairmont State. The Cardinals were not going to witness a repeat performance Saturday night.
Haywood Highsmith had his 27th double-double of the season with 22 points and 13 rebounds as No. 2 Wheeling Jesuit (25-5) rallied from a first-half hole to earn a berth in its first conference title game with an 83-69 victory against the Mountain Lions (17-13) in a MEC semifinal at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
“In a league that is all about scoring, we’re all about defense,” WJU coach Danny Sancomb said. “(Concord) came out extremely hot and hit a bunch of 3s, even banking a couple in.
“But our guys did a great job of understanding the process and sticking to it.”
Bolte, the MEC’s leading scorer at more than 30 points per game during the regular season, was limited to 8 of 22 shooting but thanks to an 11 of 14 showing from the free-throw line, finished with a game-high 28 points.
“We took that matchup personally,” said WJU freshman guard Brent Pegram, who was assigned Bolte for most of the contest. “We didn’t want to watch him get 50 points again.”
Pegram scored 21 points and kept WJU afloat early while Concord was draining everything it threw up from behind the 3-point line. BJ Hamlet knocked down a four 3s right out of the gate as the Mountain Lions shot to a 15-4 advantage.
Slowly but surely the Cardinals rallied, getting to within 41-37 at halftime. They started the second half on a 17-2 run to take a 54-43 lead on a 3-pointer from Preston Boswell, who finished with a team-high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and three steals.
But it was Pegram who was the sparkplug in this one. He has seen his minutes increase in the absence of Pat Moseh.
“We have the best player in the league (in Highsmith),” Sancomb said. “But we also have a lot of good players that a lot of people don’t know about.
“Guys like Brent Pegram, who is a really good player. Guys like Ryan Cooper and Brendan Hoban.”
Highsmith, who like Boswell has played every minute of his team’s two tournament games, hit a pair of free throws with 9:38 remaining to give the Cardinals their biggest advantage – 67-50.
The Mountain Lions got with 67-54 on a dunk by Antonio Patterson, but Highsmith quieted the visiting crowd with a 3-pointer to get it back to 16.
“This means a lot,” Highsmith said. “It’s cool to be in the championship, but we came down here to get three wins.
“We’ve got one more to go.”
Concord began to foul down the stretch in an attempt to prolong the game, but the Cardinals were up to the task. They connected on 24 of 33 from the line during the game.
The biggest difference was in the rebounding department, where Wheeling Jesuit held a 49-29 advantage. The Cardinals ripped down 20 offensive boards.
“We pride ourselves on crashing the boards,” Highsmith said. “All five guys.
“A guy like Jeremiah Wilson, he would average 10 or 12 rebounds if he wasn’t playing beside me. I take a lot of his rebounds away from him.”