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Boys state tourney tips off today

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Getting up early helped South Charleston immensely the last time it played Hurricane. But faced with an 11:15 a.m. tip today, both teams had better shake off the cobwebs.

SC (24-1), the No. 2 seed, and No. 7 Hurricane (19-6) get the Class AAA tournament off and rocking today with a morning start at the Civic Center. The winner gets to cool its heels for nearly 58 hours before playing in Friday's semifinals at 9 p.m.

When the two Mountain State Athletic Conference teams met in the regular season, a quick start was key in the Black Eagles' 74-62 victory. Buoyed by their denying defense, they jumped on top 25-8 after one quarter and protected that lead throughout, though the Redskins shaved it back as close as seven points.

"That was a lovely way to start,'' Hurricane coach Lance Sutherland said, tongue in cheek, of the first game.

"We had a couple of easy, open shots we missed, and we missed three, four layups. I don't know if we were just tight, but we didn't play very well the first quarter. Then we started taking care of the ball, attacking instead of being passive. We had a couple of mental lapses that cost us, but we were able to compete with them the rest of the way.''

SC's trapping, swiping defense does that to a lot of teams - the Black Eagles have held 17 teams under 60 points this season, with 10 of those not even making it to 50 points.

"We've talked about being able to handle the pressure,'' Sutherland said, "that we've got to be smart and don't throw the ball to them. If you get in trouble, take the five-second or 10-second call or throw the ball out of bounds - just don't throw it to them. Give us a chance to go down and play defense.''

The Black Eagles have become even more lethal toward season's end as their oft-time seven-man rotation has turned into a full-fledged nine-man rotation. The development of 6-foot-5 senior Kevin Williams and 6-4 junior Jonah Cosby has earned them chunks of playing time along with fellow reserves Tre Clark and Shawn Cunningham.

Williams has turned in three double-figure scoring efforts over the past six games, but Cosby has been the real find. In SC's three postseason games, the former bench-warmer has averaged nearly 12 points.

"We're deeper than we've ever been,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "We've started three different guys at that 'four' position [power forward], and we've got four guys off the bench who are good enough to be in the starting lineup.

"That's unusual for us. Usually, I try to play seven, 7 1/2 guys, but I wouldn't hesitate to put any of those four guys in, depending on where we're at in the game or what we need at certain times in the game. Cosby has really come on. He's good enough to start for us. I expect him to get in early and play a lot like he has been playing.''

Sophomore Brandon Knapper (19.6 points per game) continues to lead SC in scoring, followed by junior A.D. Cunningham (15.6). Herbert said Knapper has overcome an injury to his shooting elbow and 6-5 center Anthony Billings has recovered from a bout with the flu.

For the Redskins, who many times use as few as six players, 6-5 Henry Sorsaia tops the scoring list at 18.8 ppg, backed by Trey Dawson (13.3) and Garrett DeFries (11.0).

Sixth man J.T. Rogoszewski had his first big game of the season the first time around against SC, scoring 16 points. Since then, he's hit double figures in points in 10 of his last 15 games.

The 11:15 start is probably less of a change for Hurricane, which played in the exact same time slot at last year's state tournament against Woodrow Wilson. The Redskins also played an early afternoon game at Woodrow Wilson this year, and Sutherland said his practice times are often tailored for just such a situation.

"That's when we practice on the weekends,'' he said. "You obviously don't want to look too far down the road, but to get back to the state tournament, we knew we were relatively new to this whole basketball scene and it would be hard for us to get over a 6, 7 seed. So we try to arrange practices like where we might be playing. So we've played each other a lot at that time of day - just not games against somebody else.''

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


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