South Charleston's Hunter Moles (left) gets down on defense against Morgantown's Nathan Adrian.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For South Charleston, the one-and-done is long gone.
It took a courageous second-half performance Thursday night, but the Black Eagles forged their way into the Class AAA semifinals with a 48-39 victory over Morgantown at the Civic Center.
Freshman Brandon Knapper came off the bench to score 16 points and SC (24-2), the No. 3 seed, opened the second half on a 12-1 run and never let up defensively against the taller Mohigans and 6-foot-9 West Virginia University recruit Nathan Adrian.
The victory erases memories of first-round state tournament exits for the Black Eagles the last two years.
"It's expected of them,'' SC coach Vic Herbert said of the win. "They play for South Charleston, and South Charleston is a winning program. They know what's expected of them, so they go out and do it.''
The sixth-seeded Mohigans (19-7) led at halftime, riding 12 points from Adrian. In the second half, however, Morgantown couldn't buy a shot, hitting just 20 percent overall, 10 percent on 3-pointers (1 of 10) and 4 of 11 on free throws.
"That's not quite good enough,'' said Mohigans veteran coach Tom Yester. "We had our shots and couldn't seem to get anything to fall. Maybe we were tired. It came down to our inability on offense and certainly not our inability on defense if we hold a team like that to 48 points.''
Adrian finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots, but sank only 2 of 9 second-half shots, finishing the game 6 of 20.
While the Mohigans were firing blanks, SC's players decided to buck the odds and take the ball inside despite having only one player taller than 6-1 against a Morgantown team standing 6-9, 6-3, 6-3 and 6-3. And that one SC player, 6-3 Hunter Moles, didn't play after being whistled for a technical foul at the 6:07 mark of the third quarter.
"All year, we've been pounding it inside,'' said SC forward Trevond Reese, "but in the first half we settled for a lot of jump shots. We needed to start penetrating the gaps.
"To start the second half, Rashaud [Kincaid] penetrated a gap and got a floater, and we all knew we could get in there and finish. A.D. [Cunningham] helped us out big. He just played strong in there. He had a rough first half, but that one rebound he got over 6-9 Adrian and holds the ball and goes up strong with him - that's tough. We needed that.''
Cunningham scored eight of his 10 points in the second half and grabbed 11 rebounds. Reese had four steals and pulled down nine tough boards to allow SC to break even off the glass with Morgantown at 36 apiece.
"We've been waiting for this game all year,'' said Kincaid, who knocked down three 3s and scored 15 points. "We know the past two years we've been knocked out in the first round, so we wanted to come in and play with a lot of heart and determination. We knew it would be a tough game because they had a height advantage.''
The Black Eagles took the lead for good at 28-27 when Devyn Harris picked the pocket of Mohigans' guard Nick Colasante at midcourt and sailed in for a layup with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
It was Harris' only points of the game but capped a comeback from an early 10-point deficit.
"Devyn gets a crucial steal there,'' Reese said, "and we go up, and that's when the whole game changed around.''
SC's trademark swarming defense, which didn't seem to bother Morgantown in the first half, certainly paid dividends after the break. The Mohigans finished with 17 turnovers and 28 percent shooting.
"They're great defensively,'' Colasante said. "Every kind of set we tried to run, they're in there. Against teams like that, it makes it more difficult. We prepared for it, but our shots weren't falling as much as we wanted them to.''
After Morgantown shaved its deficit to 36-34 with seven minutes left, SC started to spread the floor on offense in order to draw the Mohigans out of the foul lane, and perhaps out of good rebounding position.
That became evident with 1:27 left to play when Cunningham darted for an opening inside, missed a shot, Reese missed a stickback and Cunningham got another offensive rebound and laid it home to give SC a 44-39 lead and force a Mohigans timeout.
After a missed 3 by Morgantown, Kincaid got the ball to Knapper for a layup with a minute to go, and it was pretty much over.
"In the first half, we guarded pretty good,'' Herbert said, "but didn't run any offense. We were terrible on offense and we discussed that at halftime. Defensively, I thought we really picked it up and went from being pretty good to daggone really good.
"All the credit to these guys. I'm real proud of them. They're special to me. They're like sons to me. [The seniors] came in when I did.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.