MORGANTOWN - The University boys' basketball team has had a rough couple seasons. This year, though, the Hawks are looking to turn things around.
That turnaround will have to wait at least one more game as the Hawks were dealt a tough hand to open their season, and lost to the state's top-ranked team, Wheeling Park, 83-51, on Wednesday night.
''It's very tough to start against the No. 1 team in the state,'' UHS junior Travis Tomer said. ''They were all very athletic. It was like playing against a small college."
The Patriots (1-0) played like a college team, and led wire-to-wire.
''It was a good start and I thought the energy was good,'' Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia said. ''I think we have a little bit deeper team than we did a year ago, and that can help us. Everybody contributed.''
Wheeling Park had five player score double-figures. Leading the scoring were returning all-state selections Boo Lathon (13 points, seven rebounds) and Vondel Bell (17 points, three rebounds, three steals).
''I think we can have for or five guys score double-digits a night,'' Jebbia said. ''Yeah, we're going to have about three guys that do most of the scoring, but I think we're stronger when we share the ball.''
Really, though, the Patriots' defense was the biggest asset for the two-time state runner-up.
''That is a very good team. They are gifted defensively and took us out of a lot of things we wanted to do,'' UHS coach Paul Ingle said. ''We played too much 1-on-1 against good defensive players and just couldn't get into, or stay in our offensive sets.''
''Sometimes in openers you aren't sure what to expect, and University had a couple returning guys, but I think our defense just wore them down,'' Jebbia added
The game itself actually was somewhat closer than the score. With the exception of an 11-2 run to open play, the Patriots never had any long runs that would've allowed them to pull away quicker.
''I don't think I can point to any one particular run, they just kept stretching (the lead) out,'' Ingle said. ''They had small runs like 5-2, 7-3 and things like that.''
Following a 6-1 run by the Hawks (0-1) to end the first half, UHS trailed only 40-27 to start the third quarter.
''I thought our attitude at halftime was pretty good,'' Ingle said. ''I thought they were ready to come out and play hard in the second half.''
But, the Patriots continued their steady play in the second half. And following a thunderous, third-quarter dunk by Lathon that put Park up by 20, all hope for a UHS comeback was lost.
''The dunk by Boo really gave them a spark. That was a nice dunk,'' Tomer said. ''But really, they just know how to play as a team and run the floor.''
UHS also was heavily outrebounded in the loss, 39-21.
''We're not big and rebounding is going to take a lot of good technique and hard work for us,'' Ingle said. ''And even so, I think most nights we're going to lose the rebounding battle, especially against good athletes like Wheeling Park.''
Tomer, who was playing in his first career varsity game, led UHS with 12 points. Fellow junior Deion Cunningham also had a nice game, adding 10 points and six rebounds.