Huntington's Ericka Budd (34) grabs a rebound against GW's Leslie Gilmore (right).
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A subtle change in the second half made all the difference in the world for Huntington.
The Highlanders switched to their man-to-man defense at the start of the third quarter and ran away with a 69-50 victory Wednesday night over host George Washington. A crowd of about 120 attended the clash of Class AAA state-ranked Mountain State Athletic Conference foes.
The No. 8 Patriots took a 30-29 lead into the break, but No. 6 Huntington came roaring out to start the third period with a 10-0 run to seize the momentum for good along with a 40-30 lead with 3:21 left in the quarter. Four different players contributed baskets for the Highlanders (8-3), but Alexis Williams' and Lacy Johnson's 3-pointers heightened the pressure on GW.
The Highlanders (8-3), who forced seven turnovers, went on to outscore the Patriots 16-5 in the third for a 46-35 advantage heading into the final frame and never looked back.
"We just had to get warmed up,'' said Huntington senior wing Kiana Evans, who tallied 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. "Once we got a couple of steals we just got confident to keep on going and playing hard.''
"We're playing better,'' added Highlanders coach Lonnie Lucas. "The effort has been killing us even though we've been winning. We just haven't been going at it hard enough. We played zone then switched to man-to-man [defense]. You have to account for your girl and [our players] stepped up and did a pretty good job. I hope it's a start of good stuff.''
Freshman post player Ericka Budd paced the Highlanders with 18 points and grabbed six boards while senior forward Dominique Gibson chipped in 12 points, nine rebounds and four steals and Williams, a freshman, donated 10 points and six boards. Huntington freshman point guard Dazha Congleton nearly turned in a triple double with nine points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
"We're playing pretty good to be a young team,'' said Evans, who is a state player of the year candidate and has already signed with Marshall. "We're playing as a team. We're playing at a quick pace. We have subs who can come in and we don't drop off.''
GW (5-3) sliced its deficit to eight points (52-44) on junior post Kelli Jo Harrison's 3 with 6:02 to go in the fourth quarter, but Huntington finished with a game-ending 17-6 run to squash any comeback hopes. Harrison, who fouled out, starting point guard Alanna Mobayed, center Leslie Gilmore and top substitute Haley Stewart were in foul trouble for most of the second half.
"I thought we were getting good looks, we we're moving the ball and everybody was scoring,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster of his team's opening half. "[Huntington] came out in that man and cut down on our looks and covered our guards up.
"They push you so far out. Even though you're coming off screens, if you don't catch and release right away they're so long and athletic that you're not going to get a shot up, and if you do it's going to be an altered shot you don't want to take. It just kind of fell apart in the third quarter.''
GW senior guard Rachel Ward netted 18 points, sinking 4 of 10 shots from 3-point range, and was the only player to hit double figures for the Patriots. Sophomore guard Alanna Mobayed added nine points, four rebounds and seven assists while Harrison finished with eight points and four boards.
The Patriots' loss to Huntington came on the heels of a 47-30 setback at AA No. 2 Bridgeport on Saturday.
"I have kind of switched up my style of offense a little bit,'' said LaMaster, who guided the Patriots to last year's AAA state semifinals for a second straight year. "We've really worked on it for two days.
"At Bridgeport I saw a lot of things I didn't like. We were standing around too much and not screening enough. We have a difficult time creating our own shots. So now we're running more of a screen and double screen-style offense. It's going to take some time. This is a work in progress. Mostly it's timing. I saw some positives.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.