Second-half slump sinks Yellowjackets
CHARLESTON — Scott Sauro came in with a solid gameplan.
After falling to Wheeling Central by 32 earlier in the season, the Williamstown head coach wanted to slow the tempo and limit the Maroon Knights’ possessions. The plan worked for awhile, but eventually Central’s speed and athleticism took over as the second-seeded Knights bested the seventh-seeded Yellowjackets 60-35.
“I thought we were doing a good job with trying to be deliberate,” Sauro said. “The first time we played them, we were down 30 at halftime. So we said, ‘Look. We need to really limit the possessions in this game.’ We were really doing a good job with that.”
Williamstown opened the game with a 3-pointer by Cullen Cutright from the top the arc. The Yellowjackets then controlled the first half of the opening period. Trent Lynch’s drive and basket at the 4:41 mark put the ‘Jackets up 6-2, and later another bucket by Lynch made it 8-4. However, Central closed the period on an 8-0 run, fueled by 3-pointers from Bray Price and Jalen Creighton, to take a 12-8 lead at the end of one.
Price and Williamstown’s Eli Inman traded jumpers to start the second quarter, but a layup and a triple by J.C. Maxwell helped stretch the Maroon Knights’ lead to 19-11 with 3:20 to go in the half. Creighton added a bucket to make the lead 10, but Williamstown got another jumper from Inman to cut it to eight, 21-13, at halftime. Cutright created a good look just before the break, but his jump shot to make it a two-possession game was off the mark.
“You know, 21-13 at half, it’s still anybody’s game,” Central head coach Mel Stephens said.
Added Sauro, “The first half, I thought we really competed well. I thought our defensive effort was really good. If you can take a team like Wheeling Central and hold them to 21 points in a half, I think that’s a pretty good defensive effort. We were playing pretty deliberately, but I thought our defensive effort was good too.”
Then, in the second half, the Knights took control, shooting 17 for 33 (51 percent) from the floor while pushing the tempo and taking the Yellowjackets out of their gameplan.
Williamstown appeared to gain some momentum to start the second half as Lynch knocked down a triple and then assisted Baylor Haught on a layup to get within five, 23-18. However, Creighton answered with a 3 before Anthony Robbins scored six straight points for the Knights to make it 32-18. Inman responded with a 3 and Haught made a putback basket to cut the deficit to nine, but an 11-2 run by Wheeling Central stretched the lead to 15. Xavier Caruthers’ jumper off the glass closed the third quarter with the Yellowjackets trailing 40-27.
Things spiraled out of hand in the fourth quarter as Williamstown went into desperation mode. Central increased its lead to 20 on Ryan Reasbeck’s drive at the 5:36 mark, and later to 30 on Dom Mills’ basket to make it 60-30 after both coaches emptied their benches.
“I thought coach Sauro had his team really well prepared,” Stephens said. “They came out and tried to slow the game down a little bit, tried to spread us out and take us off the dribble. They were somewhat successful with that. I didn’t think we did a great job of controlling the dribbler in the first quarter. From the second quarter on I thought we did a much better job. We were able to get out in transition a couple times and get some baskets, execute on the offensive end, get some offensive rebounds, get out in the lead and keep the lead.”
As well as Williamstown played on D, Central was even better, limiting the ‘Jackets to 30.2 percent (13 for 43) shooting.
“Obviously, points are hard to come by when you play those guys,” Sauro said. “They are a really, really good defensive team. They’re the best defensive team that we played all year. They really get under you, and then they slide with you. They’re really athletic and they do a nice job.
“We missed a few bunnies there in the first half that, in a game like this against an opponent like that, we really needed to finish.”
Robbins scored a game-high 14 points to go with eight rebounds. Reasbeck netted 13 points, Creighton added 10 and Maxwell chipped in nine markers and eight boards.
Nobody scored in double figures for Williamstown. Lynch led the team with eight, Inman added seven while Haught and Garret Hill tallied five apiece. Haught also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds while Cutright notched eight.
Central, which plays Parkersburg Catholic at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the state semifinals, held significant advantages in points in the paint (32-14) and points off turnovers (21-9).