Wheeling Central Gearing Up For State Boys Basketball Tournament
CHARLESTON — For the Wheeling Central boys basketball team, the classification may be different, but the goal remains the same.
With the new class realignment in the state basketball tournament, the Maroon Knights head to Charleston as the fifth seed in Class AAA. They will take on fourth-seeded Nitro tonight at 9 in the quarterfinals at the Charleston Coliseum.
“For us, the focus and the goals at the beginning of the season remain the same,” Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said. “No. 1, win the OVAC championship and No. 2, qualify for the state tournament. That’s what we’ve done. “I’m extremely proud of the kids. We didn’t really talk about moving up in class. We just treated it like another regular basketball season. We just had the opportunity to play some different teams and we get that same opportunity this week.”
The journey to the state capital wasn’t an easy one for the Maroon Knights as they faced some adversity against unfamiliar opponents.
In the sectional championship, Wheeling Central played in the sectional final game without two of their starters along with not playing a game for three weeks. After a slow start, the Maroon Knights were able to run away from the Huskies, 53-39.
In the Class AAA regional co-final, the Maroon Knights overcame a small deficit in the fourth quarter and edged Trinity, 46-41 to punch their ticket to the state tournament.
Wheeling Central (12-2) will face yet another new opponent this postseason in Nitro. The Wildcats defeated Lincoln County to punch their ticket to the state tournament for the first time since 1999.
The Wildcats (16-3), who currently hold a eight-game winning streak, is led by junior guard Kolton Painter who is averaging 15.8 points per game.
Joe Udoh, a senior center, who is listed at 6-foot-9 has is averaging a double-double per outing with 13.3 points and 11 rebounds. He also is averaging three steals and 2.4 blocks per game. Trevor Lowe (junior, wing) is netting just under 12 points per game (11.6).
“The big kid we don’t see too many kids (6-8) up here, so that’s going to be a challenge. Their guards shoot the ball really well,” Stephens said.
“We’ve seen a little bit of tape on them and hopefully we can have some mismatches in our favor. We just have to battle inside with the big kid (Udoh).
“I think probably the biggest key is rebounding. If we can rebound the ball, especially on the defensive end, that’s going to be a key. But, if we can get ourselves some extra chances on the offensive end, by sneaking in a couple of rebounds, getting extra possessions, we told the kids that extra possession usually result in points. If you give up extra possessions, you’re probably going to give up points. Rebounding is going to be our big focus.”
The Maroon Knights have three players averaging in double figures.
J.C. Maxwell has put together a solid senior campaign scoring 19.8 points per game while grabbing 7.5 rebounds and dishing out 2.6 assists.
Junior Michael Toepfer has issued 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Classmate Ryan Reasbeck leads the way in scoring for the Maroon Knights with 22.9 points per game. He is also averaging 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Reasbeck also missed some games late in the regular season dealing with some back issues. However, in his first game back in the sectional final, he bucketed a team-high 19 points.
“He really amazed me and he’s did absolutely nothing for about six weeks and came back for that sectional game. He looked like he didn’t miss a day. It was truly amazing,” Stephens said. “He told me his legs were sore the next day. But for not doing nothing for six weeks to being able to compete in a high school game was pretty amazing.”
The Maroon Knights qualified to last year’s state tournament, but the coronavirus canceled the event.
“I think it’s a big for the guys we have returning,” Stephens said. “To be able to get back down there this year and have a little closure to your season whether you lose or go all the way to the championship and win. We have six of those guys coming back and we have six new guys on varsity this year. For them, it’s a new experience.
“For basketball players, this is what you play for to make it to the state tournament. I think it’s good for all of them.”