Men and Women’s Basketball First Round Recap

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Wesleyan 67, West Virginia State 55

After splitting the regular-season series with each team winning close games on their home floor, the third matchup provided a little more breathing room.

West Virginia Wesleyan, which was beaten just last week by Fairmont State, turned the tables Wednesday during the opening round of the Mountain East Conference Tournament inside WesBanco Arena.

Nicole Gilyard scored a team-high 16 points as Wesleyan used a 7-0 run during the final 2:14 of the third quarter as the catalyst in a 67-55 victory against the seventh-seeded Falcons (13-17). The No. 10 Bobcats (7-19) will face No. 2 Charleston in a noon Thursday quarterfinal.

“We’re striving,” Wesleyan coach Vicky Bullett said. “They were all close games (against Fairmont) and I think after you play a team three times you kind of get to know their personnel.

“They have great individual strengths and you try to take that away and the kids understood that as well.’’

Wesleyan advanced thanks in large part to its defense. Fairmont was limited to 34-percent shooting including a 3 of 18 showing from beyond the 3-point line in being held 17 points below its season scoring average. The Falcons’ Big 3 of Brooke Kurucz, Rachel Laskody and Sierra Kotchman struggled to the tune of 12 of 43 accuracy.

“One of the problems we had last game when we played them, was we weren’t getting over the screens,” said Gilyard, who added five rebounds and a pair of assists to her point total. “This time I really focused on doing that.’’

The Falcons used a 9-2 spurt in the early stages of the third to take a 33-32 lead. But the Bobcats broke open a game that featured seven first-half lead changes during the final 2:14 of the quarter.
It was there that Wesleyan closed on a 7-0 run that was punctuated by a 3 from Brittany Stawovy that gave her team a 45-38 advantage going to the fourth quarter.

“They played on their toes from the start to the finish,” Fairmont coach Steve McDonald said of the Bobcats. “I’ve been in a whole lot of conference tournaments and when you get here, sometimes you’re a little bit off which we were in the first half.

“I thought we regrouped and played a good first five-minute game in the third quarter and we were up one at the media timeout.

“The difference was that second five-minute game of the third quarter. They ended up outscoring us by six points and I know that doesn’t seem like much, but there was a mental thing going on there.’’

Wesleyan further point Fairmont in a hole by scoring six of the fourth quarter’s first eight points, four of which came off the hands of Abi Gabauer, to go ahead by 11 at 51-40.

“I have tremendous respect for Vicky Bullett. I don’t think anybody in here has an Olympic gold medal, but she does,” McDonald said. “The one thing I know about her and I certainly know about the Bullett family, is that her kids will play hard from start to finish.”

Kotchman, who finished with 11 points, stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer but the damage had been done.

Malaika Kimmons added 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds for Wesleyan.

“Our season was a little rough and our energy just kind of wasn’t there,” Kimmons said. “The seniors are getting ready to leave and we’re constantly coming in as the underdog, so our team wanted to continue their season.

“I don’t see any reason why as a team we can’t come in and go for a championship.”

Laskody paced everyone with 18 points and 13 rebounds, Kurucz scored 14 points and grabbed seven boards for the Falcons while Kotchman finished with 11 points.

WV State 87, Shepherd 86

Ninth-seeded West Virginia State held off a furious fourth-quarter rally from eighth-seeded Shepherd University to escape with a thrilling 87-86 victory in the opening round of the annual Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament here Wednesday afternoon at WesBanco Arena.

The win improved West Virginia State to 8-20 overall and put the Yellow Jackets in Thursday’s quarterfinals against regular-season champion and top-seeded Glenville State (26-2) at 6 p.m.

Shepherd, which got a record-setting performance from senior guard Kayla Tibbs Wednesday, lost its ninth game in a row and finished the season 11-18 overall. The Rams lost leading scorer and rebounder Sydney Clayton to a broken hand in a Feb. 9 game with Urbana University.

With 1:55 to play in the third quarter State had opened a 20-point, 75-55, lead over Shepherd and it looked as if the Yellow Jackets might cruise to the win. Shepherd, though, outscored State 6-0 in the last 1:48 of the third to trim the margin to 75-61 heading into the final 10 minutes.

In the fourth quarter Tibbs, who established both school and MEC Tournament single-game records for points in a game with 43 Wednesday, sparked a 22-9 Shepherd run to pull the Rams to within one at 84-83 with 1:45 to play.

“I knew coming into this game that I had to perform,” Tibbs said. “I didn’t see it going this way, but I’m proud of each of my teammates. We played with everything we had.

“Like I said I just knew I had to come out here and perform and do the best that I could for my team and my coach.”

Tibbs, who broke Glenville State’s Paris McLeod’s tournament scoring record of 38 points in a game, also set single-game tournament records for field goals made (17) and field goals attempted (31). She scored 14 of Shepherd’s 25 points in the fourth quarter.

“I know why I recruited her when I was at Glenville,” West Virginia State coach Charles Marshall said of Tibbs with a laugh. “She’s a heckuva player and she put on a great performance for them today.

“I’m just thankful that we were able to get it done today. We had a bit of a hiccup today because of the coaches. We missed our shoot around time, but despite that our girls were ready to play, played well early for us and got us the big lead which was crucial.”

State connected on 10-of-27 3-pointers in the first half to open a 48-38 lead at the break. The Yellow Jackets continued their impressive play for most of the third quarter getting the lead to as many as 20 before Shepherd mounted its impressive comeback.

“Give credit to West Virginia State,” Shepherd coach Jenna Eckleberry said. “They’re playing well at the right time and I think they have the potential to make a run in this tournament.

“I don’t even know how many we were down and we could have easily folded and tanked it, but that’s not what we’re about. These girls fought all the way until the end. I think everyone wanted to see a little more time on the clock. I think if we had just one more minute on the clock we might have found a way to pull it out. Still, I’m super proud of the girls for the fight they displayed.

“Kayla had a great career for us and today she was fantastic setting a school and tournament record with 43 points. That’s a great way to end your career, I just wish we could’ve gotten the win for her. We had some chances in the fourth quarter and made some great plays, but honestly it was the things we didn’t do in the first, second and third quarters that really ended up costing us this game.”

Shepherd had two chances late to either take the lead or tie the game and couldn’t convert on them. First, sophomore guard MarleyMcLaughlin got a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a contested layup that wouldn’t fall with 31.8 seconds left and the Rams trailing by one. Later, with Shepherd down 86-83 the Rams turned the ball over with 19.7 seconds left.

The Yellow Jackets, who employ a wide-open, free-shooting offensive style, almost got burned by their aggressiveness in the final 10 minutes. State took quick shots that weren’t falling which allowed Shepherd to get back in it.

“We knew eventually they were going to go on a run and they did,” State senior forward Anesha Harmon said. “In order for us to pull out the win we did we had to get an early lead and I’m thankful we were able to do that and hold off their run.”

Marshall says he’ll take the blame for letting Shepherd get as close as it did at the end.

“I probably should have called a timeout and settled us down,” Marshall said. “That goes back to us being a bit young and inexperienced. We definitely should have ran more clock in our possessions and worked for better shots and that goes back to us not really have experienced leadership on the floor to poise us.

“That is our style though and we’ll take it for what it’s worth. Thankfully, it worked out for us today.”

State was led by freshman guard Charity Shears who finished with 21 points. The Yellow Jackets also got 16 points from Harmon and 11 points from Amari Grace.

McLaughlin was the only other Shepherd player beside Tibbs to reach double figures in scoring. She finished with 12 points. The Rams also got seven points, eight rebounds and a game-high 10 assists from senior guard Kari Lankford. Her 10 assists tied Fairmont State’s Gabrielle Etter for the second-most in an MEC Tournament game.

Shepherd 71, UVa-Wise 66

What began as a blowout turned into a ballgame. Throughout it all, No. 7 Shepherd never blinked during Wednesday’s Mountain East Conference Tournament opening-round matchup with No. 10 UVa.-Wise at WesBanco Arena.

Shepherd (14-15) jumped to a 20-0 lead as Wise missed its first 12 shots, yet had to make several key plays down the stretch to advance to Friday’s noon quarterfinal meeting with second-seeded Fairmont State. Thomas Lang hit a couple of clutch 3s in the waning moments – setting a single-season school record with 103 in the process – as the Rams prevailed, 71-66.

“When you jump out to a big lead like that it can sometimes be a little deceiving in the game of basketball, because sometimes guys relax and think you’re just going to blow a team out,’’ said Shepherd coach Justin Namolik, who as a graduate of Wheeling Park High School played on the same floor during three straight West Virginia Class AAA regional games. “But that doesn’t happen (because) Virginia-Wise has some good young players and we knew they were going to come back on us and make a run.

“I liked where we were at halftime.’’

That was in front, 35-30, even though at one point the Cavaliers had drawn even at 28-28.

Shepherd couldn’t extend the lead as Wise continued to chip away. The margin got as high as nine on a 3-pointer from freshman Jon Preston made it 50-41.

But just as it did all night, Wise continued to battle back. Highlighted by a Cameron Whiteside 3, the Cavaliers (9-20) ripped off a 9-0 burst to once again even the game at 50-50 on a bucket by Kaeleb Carter.

“We didn’t score the first nine minutes of the game and obviously when you do that, you’re playing on your back for the entire game,’’ Wise coach Blake Mellinger said. “I thought the guys did a great job of playing through it and weathering the storm to get back in it.

“We couldn’t make plays down the stretch. We got the lead there with five or six minutes to go and Thomas Lang hit a couple 3s to stretch it out there a little bit.’’

Following a Jordan Pointer basket that gave Wise its first lead with 5:41 remaining, the teams traded the advantage four times, the final one giving Shepherd a 61-59 lead on the second of back-to-back Lang 3s.

“We were stressing at the beginning of the game to win the first five minutes and we came out firing,” Lang said. “We came out strong but throughout the first half but we were recognizing that at some point they were going to make their run and we have to withstand that, and we did.’’

A pair of Eric Okenchi free throws tied the game for the final time at 61-61, but the Rams finished the game on a 10-5 run. The key basket was a deep 3-pointer at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down from Derek McKnight that took the margin from four to seven.

“At one point in the first half we tied it and I felt really good about it because we had a lot of momentum,” Mellinger said. “Even when all that (the 20-0 start) was going on, we were missing layups and everything.

“We felt like if we could just settle down more than anything, that we would be able to climb back in it.

“From an energy standpoint I don’t think it took an exceptional amount of energy out of us where we couldn’t finish the game. I think we just didn’t make plays.”

Lang paced four Rams in double figures with 18 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Preston had a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds while Emmanuel Aghayere added 12 points and McKnight finished with 11. In what Melligner called perhaps his best game of the season, Pointer collected eight points, five rebounds and five blocked shots.

Whiteside (seven rebounds) and Chance Sheffey (seven assists) led the Cavaliers with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Okenchi notched 12 points and seven rebounds while Briggs Parris scored 11.

Wheeling Jesuit 66, West Virginia Wesleyan 48

Ninth-seeded Wheeling Jesuit University, which turned its season around late by winning six of its final nine regular-season games, raced to a 15-3 lead over eighth-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan in the first six minutes of the opening round of the Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament at WesBanco Arena Wednesday and never looked back as it cruised to a 66-48 victory.

The win improved Wheeling Jesuit to 9-20 overall and sets up a quarterfinal round meeting with regular-season MEC champion and top-seeded West Liberty (24-3) at 6 p.m. Friday evening. The Hilltoppers defeated the Cardinals 96-85 in the final regular season game for both schools on March 2.

Wesleyan, which lost for the fifth time in six games, finished its season at 11-18. The 48 points were a season low for the Bobcats, who connected on just 17-of-51 field goal attempts (33.3 percent) and ended up making more 3-point field goals (9) than they did 2-point field goals (8). Their previous low point total was 52 in a 65-52 loss to Fairmont State back on Dec. 1.

The Bobcats also set a record for the fewest points scored in an MEC Tournament game and the combined point total of the contest (114) also set a new record breaking the old mark of 118 set by the same two schools in the 2016 tournament.

“I think our guys did a great job of executing our game plan on both ends of the floor,” WJU coach John Peckinpaugh said. “Obviously we’re really happy with our defensive effort holding them to 33 percent shooting and 48 points.

“They’re a very good team and they make it tough on you on both ends of the floor with what they do, so I’m really proud of our guys and how we executed what we wanted to do tonight.”

Wheeling, which got good ball movement and good shots all evening against Wesleyan’s 2-3 zone, ended the game shooting 27-of-57 from the field (47.4 percent). WJU also dominated the Bobcats on the glass owning a 41-28 advantage and outscored Wesleyan in the paint 42-14.

The Cardinals opened a 38-21 lead at the break and early in the second half extended it to 21 at 44-23 before Wesleyan mounted a comeback. The Bobcats engineered a 12-0 run during a seven-minute span early in the second half to close the gap to 44-35 with 12:01 to play. Wheeling, however, answered that run with a 14-0 spurt of its own to push the lead back to 58-35 and secure the win with 5:25 to play.

“We got our butt kicked,” Wesleyan coach Jack Meriwether said. “I thought they played better than us and I thought John coached better than I did. I also think they seemed a lot better prepared than we were top to bottom.

“In the second half we played better. We talked at halftime and said let’s get it under 10 and I’ll call a timeout. When we got it to nine the frustrating thing for me was our offense for like the next three possessions was abysmal. The things that got us right back in the game we abandoned and that was frustrating. Once we had three or four bad offensive possessions they went on another run and extended the lead again.”

Wesleyan senior guard/forward Fred Brondsted, who led the Bobcats with 14 points and six rebounds, agrees.

“We came out and didn’t play hard enough and weren’t disciplined enough tonight,” Brondsted said. “They’re a hard matchup for us in my opinion because they have a lot of size inside and we’re thin inside with Jalen (Melvin) out.

“When we made the run on them in the second half we were playing with a lot of pace. That’s been a theme for us lately with our five-guard lineup. When we play with pace, we play well. We ran out of gas though and they responded very well. They’re a very talented young team and I think they’re going to be very good in future years.”

The only other Bobcat to finish in double figures was Daylin Lee, who ended up with 12 points and six rebounds.

Wheeling, on the other hand, placed four players in double digits in the scoring column. Miguel Rodriguez and DeAndre Robinson led the Cardinals with 12 points apiece. Robinson, who recorded a double-double, also pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds.

“We played great tonight,” Robinson said. “We were locked in right from the beginning. We knew we had to win this game.”

“We got the ball to the short corner tonight which was what we wanted to do,” Rodriguez said. “From there we worked the ball inside out and for the most part got good looks all night.”

Tariq Woody added 11 points and five rebounds for the Cardinals, while Emmanuel Ansong chipped in 10 points.

“When we played them two weeks ago we were successful in attacking their zone so we kind of had the blueprint for what we wanted to do tonight,” Peckinpaugh said. “We tweaked some things and went through the short corner more to attack the high post and as a result we were successful offensively which led to us getting stops on the defensive end of the floor.

“I really thought our guys came in mentally prepared to compete for 40 minutes tonight. Even after the stagnant drought we had there early in the second half I felt like we still stayed locked in and recovered well from that and continued to execute our game plan.”

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