Wheeling Jesuit Men Earn First MEC Basketball Title
Highsmith named tournament MVP
CHARLESTON – Despite an extended run of success, Wheeling Jesuit had never played in a Mountain East Conference Tournament championship game. Once the Cardinals got there Sunday at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum, they weren’t about to return to the Ohio Valley without a title.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Haywood Highsmith scored 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while freshman Brent Pegram scored 29 to set a career high for the second consecutive day, as second-seeded Wheeling Jesuit (26-5) smothered Charleston (18-13) in an 80-65 victory.
It not only marked the largest margin of victory in the short history of the MEC Tournament, but it was the 100th win for the Cardinals’ senior class.
“I’m real proud of my kids. To win three games in three days in this league is very difficult,” WJU coach Danny Sancomb said. “We were very good defensively and very good on the glass.
“I am so excited for these guys. This will be a memory they have for the rest of his life.”
The Golden Eagles started quickly by scoring the game’s first four points, but just as he did a day earlier in a semifinal victory against Concord, Pegram took over. He scored Wheeling Jesuit’s first eight points and it didn’t trail the rest of the way.
“I had to step up,” said Pegram, who also had four assists and a pair of steals on the way to All-Tournament honors. “My teammates have all the confidence in me and they just told me to keep letting it fly.”
His coach didn’t have an issue with that advice.
“Brent has the attitude and the spirit of a junior or senior,” Sancomb said. “I can only hope that my three boys have the type of desire Brent Pegram has.”
Highsmith, who added the MVP honor to his regular season MEC Player of the Year award, dominated like he did all tournament. When the Cardinals needed a basket, Highsmith delivered.
“I voted for him as player of the year and he deserved it, because he is a phenomenal player,” UC coach Dwaine Osborne said. “And I am honest, so when I tell you he’s a good kid I mean it. Every interaction I have had with him has been positive and he’s always got a smile on his face.
“There’s not many kids who are ever going to play in this league that are better than Haywood. He’s tremendous.”
Golden Eagles freshman post Lamont McManus echoed those sentiments.
“He’s tough to defend because he doesn’t just post up,” said McManus, who had eight points and eight rebounds and was named to the All-Tournament team along with teammate Keir Anderson. “He can shoot 3s, he can hit mid-range shots and he can drive to the basket.
“He is so active. He’s MVP for a reason.”
Jesuit led by as many as 15 in the first half before settling on a 38-26 advantage at the half. Charleston got to within 51-47 after the break, but the Cardinals responded with a 9-0 run. Pegram scored and was fouled and added a pair of free throws, before Preston Boswell — also All-Tournament — hit a 3 and Jeremiah Wilson tallied inside to make it 61-47.
“They always scrap and compete,” Osborne said of WJU. “They are tough and that starts with Danny.”
Charleston again made a run, but the Cardinals countered with an 8-0 burst to make it 74-56 and essentially erase any doubt about the outcome.
“This means a lot,” Highsmith said. “We’ve always been a top team but we would always come up short in the semifinals.
“To take this back to Wheeling means everything.”
Wilson added eight tough points and nine rebounds for WJU. Anderson paced the Golden Eagles with 18, Austin Howard scored 14 and Seth O’Neal checked in with 12.
Now the Cardinals turn their attention to the Atlantic Regional.
“We’re not done,” Sancomb said. “We’ve still got work to do.”
Dan Monteroso of West Liberty was also named to the All-Tournament team. He was joined by W.Va. State’s Pat Johnson-Agwu and Concord’s Tommy Bolte.