Woodrow streaks into title game
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston spent much of the game successfully dictating the tempo against Woodrow Wilson, a track team in sneakers.
Then, in a span of a couple of minutes in the fourth quarter, it all blew up for the Black Eagles.
Andrew Johnson scored nine fourth-quarter points as the Flying Eagles used a breath-taking offensive flurry at game's end to earn a 64-57 victory over SC in the Class AAA semifinals at the Civic Center.
"It was an incredible game for both teams,'' said Woodrow coach Ron Kidd. "Give South Charleston a whole lot of credit. They didn't quit, and our kids didn't quit. I hope it was a fun game for everybody to watch in the stands.''
Woodrow (23-4), the No. 2 seed, now carries a 19-game winning streak and tackles No. 1 Martinsburg at 7:15 tonight in the finals. The game will be televised live through many portions of the state, including Channel 2 in Kanawha County.
South Charleston (24-3), the third seed, led by as many as six points on a few occasions, including a 45-39 advantage when A.D. Cunningham dropped in a 3-pointer from the left corner with 5:40 left in the game.
However, a dizzying display of back-and-forth basketball ensued almost immediately after. The Flying Eagles outscored SC 13-7 over the next 100 seconds to knot the score at 52-all.
In sum, a total of 27 points were scored between the 6:23 and 4:00 minute marks of the fourth quarter as the teams drained shot after shot after shot. The pace perked up both sides of the large crowd, but Woodrow had a little something extra in the tank.
After Devyn Harris' pull-up jumper gave SC a 52-50 lead, the Flying Eagles went on an 8-0 burst to pretty much seal it.
Johnson knocked down a jumper and, following a Woodrow steal, Chase Hancock was fouled and hit two free throws to put the Eagles up for good at 54-52.
Trevond Reese, who kept SC afloat in the first half with 10 points, missed two straight shots and Woodrow cashed in at the other end with baskets by freshman Nequan Carrington, who hit 8 of 10 attempts and scored 16 points. The nice dishes came from Donte Nabors and Johnson.
"They get me the ball,'' Carrington said, "and I appreciate that. I just go to work and try to get an easy bucket.''
SC would come within 58-56 on two Rashaud Kincaid free throws with 1:32 left, but only got one point the rest of the way. Dai Dai Fortune, who missed much of the season after being injured in an auto accident, had a key basket and a free throw late.
Woodrow, which was rarely held under 70 points following a 4-4 start to the season, was still sitting in the 30s when the floodgates opened late and altered the outcome of the game.
"We controlled the game until there were about five minutes left,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "Then they got on a little run and I thought we still had a chance, but some things happened that don't normally happen to us, and it slipped away.''
Kidd felt as if the sudden racehorse pace in the fourth quarter wore down SC's players.
"I just passed [Morgantown coach Tom] Yester after the game,'' Kidd said, "and I said, 'Thank you,' to him for wearing them down last night. I think they got a little bit tired and our guys had enough energy and guts to gut it out tonight.
"This one ranks up there pretty high, but we can't enjoy it for long. We've got to get ready for the next game against Martinsburg.''
Woodrow seeks a record 17th state championship tonight. SC was trying to make it back to the finals for the first time since 2009 and break up its 0-6 record in the AAA title game since 1959.
Herbert thought perhaps his team could have flipped strategy late in the game after the end-to-end flurry tilted the game in Woodrow's favor.
"They went to a full-court press, but it really didn't bother us,'' Herbert said, "but what we did once we broke it, we were a little too quick with the trigger instead of bringing it back out and setting things up to get a really good shot.
"But when you break it, the kids have that instinct to attack the glass with it, because that's what they're taught to do. We had the numbers and they went hard to the hole. Especially at that time of game when points are so critical, maybe I should have coached them up more. But I always say the players get the credit when we win because they make the plays, and I'll take the blame for a loss because I probably should have done things to help them out more.''
Harris led SC with 16 points, including three early 3s, and Hunter Moles, who went scoreless with four turnovers in Thursday night's quarterfinal win over Morgantown and was benched following a technical foul early in the third quarter, added 15 points.
"I mean, I can't play any worse than last night,'' Moles said. "I have to play better. There isn't any way around it. The guys still have confidence in me. I got into a little rhythm, and when I saw that first basket go in, it was a weight off my chest.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.