Huntington's Dominique Gibson (left) and GW's Alanna Mobayed battle for a rebound.
SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington is still searching for that elusive Mountain State Athletic Conference championship.
Senior Kiana Evans scored 20 of her 27 points in the second half as Huntington blew past the Patriots 72-51 Saturday evening in the girls title game of the MSAC Night of Champions. A crowd of about 400 attended the Class AAA matchup of state-ranked teams at the South Charleston Community Center.
The Patriots (14-8), No. 8 in this week's Associated Press poll, have played in the title game three of the past four years but lost each time. The No. 3 Highlanders (18-4), who have won 11 of their last 12, took part in their fourth MSAC championship contest and registered its second title to go with one in 2008.
Huntington only led by one point (26-25) at halftime, then outscored GW 46-26 in the second half. Evans came out red hot in the third quarter with 12 points, knocking down both of her 3-pointers, as the Highlanders outscored the Patriots 25-13 for a 51-38 advantage.
The Highlanders didn't let up as Evans tallied the first four points of the fourth period for a 55-38 edge and the rout was on. The Marshall recruit, who is a state player of the year candidate, finished 10 of 20 from the floor.
"It means a lot,'' said Evans of the conference title. "My four years here it's the first time we did it. We've come a long way and we stepped up and we worked hard to do our best at the MSACs. We just picked up our defense and our shots started falling. We just kept attacking. This is a big step for us."
"I look out there and [Huntington coach Lonnie Lucas] has a player on one knee gassed and they're in serious foul trouble and they just took it up a notch,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. "We didn't take advantage. We weren't versatile enough in our scoring.''
Freshman center Ericka Budd turned in quite a performance with 19 points, 20 rebounds and three steals for Huntington while senior post Dominque Gibson added 11 points and 10 boards. Freshman point guard Dazha Congleton contributed eight points, four caroms and five assists for the Highlanders, who were without senior starter Alexis Williams.
"I just said, 'Girls, you've got to go out and do your job. Don't worry about the one that's missing. Somebody step up.' They came out to play," said Lucas. "We know GW pretty well and where they like to shoot.''
Junior forward Kelli Jo Harrison came up big for GW with 20 points and 10 rebounds while senior guard and leading scorer Rachel Ward added 16 points but made just 6 of 17 shots and 4 of 14 from long range. GW sophomore point guard Alanna Mobayed chipped in 10 points, five boards and eight assists.
"I think we went cold offensively,'' said LaMaster, whose team lost 69-50 at home to Huntington in early January. "We were leaning awfully hard on Kelli in the first half. [Huntington] comes out and extends [its defense] so far that you have trouble getting shots off.
"If you don't pull it quick ... we took a shot in the corner and got it knocked back in the stands. If you don't put the ball right in the shooting pocket quick you're not going to get it off. If it's not catch and shoot we're having a hard time.''
LaMaster said the Patriots have a few things to fine-tune before next week's sectional tournament if they are going to make another deep run into the postseason.
"Something I keep seeing game after game, we're not coming up with those 50-50 balls,'' said the Patriots coach who has guided GW to the state tournament semifinals the past two years. "With deflected balls [and loose balls] we're just getting outhustled to those and the other team is turning those into points at the other end. It's just killing us right now.''
Lucas said claiming the MSAC title was a good proving ground for his Highlanders.
"We've been off eight days,'' said the Huntington coach who was recently named the 2012 West Virginia Coach of the Year by the National Federation High School Coaches Association. "That was good for us. If that doesn't get us started for sectionals we're in trouble.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.