NITRO, W.Va. -- When Huntington puts its mind to it, the Highlanders can be darn good.
Huntington sleepwalked through the first two quarters as its youngsters' focus strayed before awaking in the second half to blow past host Nitro 79-58. A crowd of about 100 attended the Mountain State Athletic Conference West Division clash of state-ranked teams.
After Nitro junior point guard Savannah Shamblin nailed a 3-pointer just before halftime for a 35-all tie, Huntington scored the first six points of the third quarter and finished with 31, nearly as many in the first two periods combined, to take an 11-point lead (66-55) into the final quarter.
The Highlanders (15-1), No. 3 in this week's Associated Press poll, turned up the full-court pressure and scored on layups and putbacks in the third, outscoring the Wildcats 14-2 to start the quarter as five different players produced points.
No. 7 Nitro closed within eight points (66-58) with 5:17 left in the fourth on senior center Halie Miller's two free throws. Huntington, though, responded with a 13-0 run to close out the period behind six straight points from Kearsta Turner, who finished with 11.
"We really weren't playing like ourselves in the first half,'' said Huntington junior guard Lacy Johnson, the only upperclassmen on the team. "We just weren't ready. We just stepped up and started driving to the basket. [We got] the momentum.''
Lexi Sheffield paced Huntington with 16 points, including 4-of-7 accuracy from 3-point range, and handed out six assists. Ericka Budd contributed 15 points, five rebounds and three steals, Jordyn Dawson totaled 14 points and eight boards and Dazha Congleton donated 11 points, four caroms and four steals. Johnson steadied the ship with an all-around floor game, turning in nine points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Johnson, Budd and Congleton were saddled with two fouls apiece in the opening half and the trio played sparingly until after the break. Dawson also picked up a technical foul in the second period.
"Well, we finally decided to play a little bit,'' smiled longtime Huntington coach Lonnie Lucas, whose squad shot 50 percent from the floor and on 3-pointers (9 of 18). "We do that sometimes. We didn't come ready to play. They're freshmen and sophomores. They're going to make some mistakes. At one time I had all freshmen on the court in the second quarter.''