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Wheeling Central finds redemption vs. Magnolia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Wheeling Central, the fourth time was the charm.

The seventh-seeded Knights opened up a huge early lead behind David Park's blistering 3-point shooting and stunned second-seeded Magnolia 58-35 in Wednesday's boys state tournament quarterfinals at the Civic Center.

Park finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. The victory reversed Central's three losses to Magnolia in three meetings this season.

With 4:45 left in the first quarter and Central nursing a 4-2 lead, Park began a barrage of five straight 3-pointers with a long trey from beyond the head of the key. By the time the 6-foot-4 junior capped the Knights' 17-0 run with another bomb from the left side, Central had piled up a 21-2 advantage.

"The first one went in, so I just kept shooting," Park said afterward. "My teammates were getting me the ball when I was open, so I just let it fly."

If the basket looked big as a hot tub to Park, it must have looked like a thimble to Magnolia. The Blue Eagles made just 5 of 23 first-half field goal attempts, including a wretched 1 for 10 from 3-point range, and trailed 32-12 at intermission.

Magnolia coach Dave Tallman said he had "no explanation" for how a team that scored more than 90 points seven times during the season could suddenly go so cold.

"Where the offense was, I have no idea," he said. "Like I told [the players], it's basketball. It happens to the Lakers, it happens to Duke and today it happened to Magnolia."

Central coach Mel Stephens believes his team's defense made the difference.

"I thought our ability to help on their big guys inside - and Brandon [Wallace's defense] on Mark Winters - were outstanding," Stephens said. "They averaged 74 against us in three [regular-season and tournament] games, and we held them to 35 today."

Magnolia won all three of the earlier matchups, 65-60 at Wheeling, 82-66 in New Martinsville and 74-50 on a neutral court in the sectionals.

Stephens said the lopsided losses might have been blessings in disguise because they gave Magnolia no clue what the Knights' state tournament game plan might be.

"If we had executed [our game plan] and did anywhere close what we did today, [Magnolia] would have [gained] a bit of an advantage," he explained.

"They would have known what we were going to try to do to them, and [the outcome of this game] might have been different. We came out and did what we wanted to do and it worked out pretty well."

Stephens' game plan called for his players to deny the Blue Eagles' two 6-6 big men, Winters and Zach Willhoite, from access to the low post.

"We wanted to get them off the blocks where they wanted to go, but recover back to their shooters if they kicked it out," Stephens said.

The tactic held Winters, the state's leading scorer at 28.6 points a game, to an uncharacteristic 7-for-21 effort from the floor. Willhoite, who averaged 15 points leading up to the state tournament, went just 1 for 5 from the floor and ended up with just two points.

Wallace had 16 and freshman Chase Harler 10 for the Knights, who improved to 14-12.

Winters had 20 points for the Eagles, who finished 21-5.

Central will face third-seeded Charleston Catholic in Friday's 9:30 a.m. Class A semifinal. The Knights fell 62-42 to the Irish during the regular season, but Stephens believes his team's height could force a different outcome this time around.

"We're a little bit bigger than them, so hopefully that works to our benefit," he said. "Maybe we can rebound and play better than we did the first game."

Catholic earned its spot in the semis with a 61-48 victory over Buffalo.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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