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SC, Capital gain valuable experience vs. quality foes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston and Capital, the Kanawha Valley's two ranked Class AAA teams, faced quality opponents over the weekend and even though they experienced different outcomes, each hopes it learned some valuable lessons.

The Black Eagles held off Knott County Central (Ky.) 75-71 Saturday night at the Hatfield-McCoy Shootout in the Williamson Field House, while the Cougars led most of the way but fell at No. 2 Huntington 69-68 on Friday.

SC (8-1) began the week ranked No. 7 in AAA, and Capital (5-1) was third. The new state rankings will be released this afternoon.

The Black Eagles overcome several obstacles to post their win, not the least of which was guarding Knott's 6-foot-2 junior guard Camron Justice, who has already committed to Tennessee. Justice hit 12 of 19 shots and 11 of 12 free throws to pour in 38 points.

Knott's front line of 6-5 Evan Hall (14 points, nine rebounds, two dunks) and 6-3 Chance Cornett (13 rebounds) gave SC some matchup problems, but the Black Eagles were able to persevere.

"That's the best team we've played so far this year,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert, "and that's no knock on anybody. That [Justice] kid is a legit D1 kid - he can play. He's the best individual player we've seen since last year in [Dominique] Hawks of Madison Central, who's now getting 20 minutes a game at the University of Kentucky.''

South Charleston never trailed over the final 16 minutes and Herbert likened the situation to what his team faced in its lone loss, a 72-71 setback at Capital on Jan. 9.

"We talked about that during one of those late timeouts,'' Herbert said. "I think we were up seven with two minutes to go, the exact same position we were in at Capital.

"We asked them, 'What are we gonna do? Are we gonna squander it like we did there or are we gonna man up, be strong with the ball and get this win?' We didn't fall into the same trap like we did at Capital. They manned up and got the job done on that. That tells me they've learned something.''

A.D. Cunningham, who scored 19 points to join SC teammates Brandon Knapper (22) and Anthony Billings (16) in double figures, also felt like Saturday's experience will help down the road.

"It was big,'' Cunningham said, "because this prepares us for other teams like ones at the state tournament. We've got another team from North Carolina we play that will help us [later in] the season.''

SC is set to tackle Flora MacDonald (N.C.) during the Feb. 19 Shootout at the Big House at the Charleston Civic Center.

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  • Capital, meanwhile, didn't fare as well in the waning moments of its showdown at Huntington, which matched 5-0 teams that were ranked among the state's top three.

    Huntington led only twice, with both leads coming in the final 1:11. The game-winner came on a layup with 38 seconds left by Arick Nicks (33 points, 13 rebounds) off a nifty pass from Tavian Dunn-Martin (25 points, three steals).

    Capital had three possessions after that, but two ended in turnovers and the other a missed shot.

    Cougars coach Carl Clark was asked if his team took away anything positive from the performance against one of the top teams in the Mountain State Athletic Conference and West Virginia AAA.

    "It depends on how the kids respond to it,'' Clark said. "I think there are a few things we can learn from this loss. It's always a good thing if you learn from your mistakes, and we made too many mistakes.

    "We didn't run our stuff, we turned the ball over too much and we weren't guarding the people that were scoring.''

    Huntington coach Ron Hess knows his team can't have enough tests when competing in a league where nine teams have winning records.

    "It's all good basketball teams in this conference,'' Hess said. "Every night will be a tough game for us. It's a big week for us, beating the No. 3 team in the state. It proves to us we're definitely one of the better teams in the state as well.''

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  • Another Kanawha Valley team pulling off a commendable win in the Hatfield-McCoy Shootout was Hurricane, which knocked off previously unbeaten Greater Beckley Christian 69-60.

    Greater Beckley came into the game ranked No. 2 in Class A with a pair of AAA-type players in Elisha Kidd (23 points) and Javonne Staunton-Bailey (20 points, nine rebounds).

    For the Redskins (8-2), it was a continuation of their long and winding road, which in the previous 10 days had taken them to games at Point Pleasant, Woodrow Wilson, Princeton, Riverside and Williamson.

    They're hoping all the travel and different looks improve their chances to make a return trip to the state tournament, a goal they reached for the first time last season.

    "When we did the schedule at the beginning of the year,'' said coach Lance Sutherland, "our goal obviously was to make it back to Charleston, and we wanted a schedule that would prepare us.

    "We're playing in an arena like this and the one down in Beckley that are kind of similar. It gives us a chance if we ever make it back [to the Civic Center] to play on a similar floor against good competition.''

    Hurricane does get a couple of home games this week - its first since Jan. 7 - but at what cost?

    The Redskins host George Washington (6-2) Tuesday and Winfield (5-3) Saturday, with a game at SC sandwiched between. Next up are dates at Spring Valley (4-3) and versus Parkersburg South (10-0) at the Big Atlantic Classic in Beckley.

    "This is our murderers row,'' Sutherland said. "If we can come out of here not too bad, we'll be in good shape.''

    Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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