Smith’s FTs Lift Donahue to ’81 State Title
Sophomore hit game-winner with no time on the clock
The West Virginia High School Boys Basketball Tournament has had some memorable championship endings in its 100-plus years of existence.
Included is the 1981 Class A finals at the Charleston Civic Center when Bishop Donahue, in only its fourth year as a member of the Secondary School Activities Commission, captured its first of two crowns…with no time on the game clock!
With apologies to Basketball Hall of Famer George Gervin, the sweet-shooter called the “Iceman”, Donahue sophomore Jimmy Smith etched his name into Donahue lore by cashing the game-winning free throw with no time on the clock in the 69-68 championship game win over Mullens before an estimated 9,000 fans.
“Everything fell into place,” Smith recalled.
“I had no time to be nervous.”
Smith, the team’s sixth man and a 50% foul shooter most of the season, was fouled on a rebound of a last-second mid-range jumper by junior all-stater, and team top scorer Frank Yankovich, as time expired and the score tied at 68. Shooting a one-and-one facing the frenzied Mullens’ crowd behind the basket, the 6-foot guard took the ball from the official with nobody on the lane and, without a dribble, sank the game-winning bonus shot to ignite a loud celebration at the other end of the court.
“Jimmy may have been a sophomore but he showed poise and no pressure in sinking that unforgettable shot,” Donahue coach John Stanko notes. “He ended with 11 points and six assists and was a key floor leader for us.”
The Bishops played only six in the finals after eliminating Matewan, 67-56 in the semis. Stat-wise, All-Tourney pick Yankovich led the way in the finals with 27 points and 12 rebounds. He scored 22 in the first half as Donahue (22-4) took a 44-28 lead over the Rebels (16-11), who were in their first season in Class A. The other starters were All-Tourney Chris Kessler (16 points), who was hurt the last five minutes; All-Tourney point guard Randy Melko (9 points, 6 assists); center Tom McConkey (4 points, 6 rebounds); and Mark Straughn (1 point, 4 assists).
The Rebels were led by all-stater Jerry Thomas with 30 points, including 24 after halftime, and fellow All-Tourney pick Eddie Cordell with 18 points. A freshman guard was Herbie Brooks, who scored 6, but would lead the Don Nuckols-coached Rebels the next three seasons to state titles before performing at West Virginia U. In 1983, Brooks set an all-time tournament record 50 points vs. Parkersburg Catholic.
“The 1981 finals were three games rolled into one,” Stanko recalled. “We played brilliantly the first half with solid defense and were careful with the ball. Mullens, however, rallied in the second half and cut the lead to 10 after three periods. Mullens had possession with the score tied at 68, and a minute remaining, and missed a foul shot. Then it came down to the last possession. After holding the ball for the last shot, we called time out and set up a play. Frank (Yankovich) came off a double screen and his mid-range shot glanced off the rim which Jimmy (Smith) rebounded, and was fouled, as the buzzer sounded. And, the rest is history.”
Smith said “our team players got along great and we had good coaches and fans. It was a game none of us will ever forget. I feel lucky and blessed to have made the last shot.”
The Donahue hero said he even made some friends on the opposing team. “Since that game, going to other state tournaments, I would run into a couple of the Mullens players and coach Nuckols and we would renew friendships. That’s what great about high school sports.”
Along with those players, Stanko also pointed out the contributions of Bob Marsh, Ed Bober, Troy Balgo, Dan Angalich, Mike Brinkman and John Davidson, calling them, “reserves who performed significantly.”
Stanko also cited fellow Ohio Valley coaches for offering help with scouting and advice that season. “Skip Prosser (at Central) and Don Woodward and Eudie Joseph (at Linsly) were always there for us and assistant coach Tom Tribett was very helpful. One of the first persons in our post-game locker room to congratulate us was Park coach Sam Andy. The Ohio Valley is a close-knit community.”
And Ohio Valley history includes the state championship won with no time on the game clock.