HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When the pressure's on, that's when South Charleston is at its best.The Black Eagles forced 23 turnovers, most of them with pressure defense, and rode the wave to a 66-46 victory over Huntington Tuesday night in a battle of state-ranked Class AAA teams.Devyn Harris led SC, the state's No. 1 team, with 20 points, knocking down 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Neal Brown added 10 points, but 16 steals were the telling stat for the Black Eagles (12-1)."We laid in the press most of the time, and it did what we wanted it to do,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "People have really struggled against our pressure - the 2-2-1 and the 1-2-1-1. We felt like that's what worked tonight.''
The victory, the 35th in a row for SC in a Mountain State Athletic Conference game, was doubly important because it puts the Black Eagles in the driver's seat as far as the MSAC West Division.South Charleston has now beaten the only two teams in the West that had winning records coming into Tuesday (Hurricane and Huntington), and the only two division teams that have been state-ranked this season. SC has five division games left, but is now the odds-on favorite to earn a spot in the title game at the MSAC Night of Champions.The Black Eagles carved out a 28-19 halftime lead, inducing 11 Highlanders turnovers in the process, then broke the game open in the third quarter.
With No. 7 Huntington (9-3) still within striking distance at 29-22, South Charleston ripped off nine straight points and the Highlanders took a timeout at the 3:37 mark, trailing 38-22.The momentum didn't flinch, however, as SC came up with two straight steals and bumped the margin to 43-22, causing Huntington coach Ron Hess to signal for another timeout just 50 seconds later."I'm just surprised at how we played,'' said Hess, whose team doubled its pregame turnover average. "We've been playing well the last couple weeks, and we were looking forward to this game."For some reason, we were just hesitant when they came to double team us. We didn't attack when we broke their pressure. We let them come double us again instead of attacking their pressure. We threw way too many lob passes tonight, and you can't throw those against a team as quick and athletic as them. And that's my fault. We weren't aggressive enough tonight as we should have been.''
SC was able to neutralize Huntington big man Arick Nicks, who came into the game fourth in the MSAC in scoring at 20.5 points per game. Nicks finished with nine points (hitting 3 of 9 shots) and eight rebounds, though he did have the game's only slam dunk on a breakaway."They kind of took us out of running our set offense with their pressure,'' Hess said, "and that hasn't happened to us all year. We didn't get the ball inside to Nicks hardly at all tonight.''Shaquan Miller led the Highlanders with 10 points, draining all three of his 3-point tries. But Huntington got off only 35 shots in the game, owing to the many aborted possessions caused by SC's trapping defense."We had a lot of good things happen tonight,'' Harris said, "mostly the pressure. We put a lot of pressure on them. We knew they had some young guards, and we were able to scare them a little bit when we put pressure on them.''
Five different SC players swiped the ball at least twice, led by Rashaud Kincaid and Hunter Moles with four apiece. Trevond Reese gave the team a lift off the bench with six points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.A.D. Cunningham led SC to a 28-22 edge off the boards by grabbing six rebounds. Kincaid dished out a team-high five assists."We're a defensive team,'' Herbert said, "and if we guard like we do 90 percent of the time and make shots like we did tonight, we're going to be hard to beat.''SC shot nearly 50 percent, making 24 of 49 attempts from the floor, including 6 of 13 from long range."This was huge,'' Herbert said. "We beat a team tonight we felt like we had to beat to have a chance to make it to the [MSAC] championship. Huntington's athletic like us and it was on their home court. We felt like it was the biggest game of the year for us because it was on our side, the West Division.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.