Wednesday was supposed to be the day that the boys state basketball tournament tipped off. But the coronavirus shot down that notion before it ever started.
So instead of watching games at the Charleston Coliseum, I found myself leafing through scoresheets of games I’d covered this season, 34 in all.
For the first time in a long while, I was able to see all 13 Kanawha Valley boys teams play this season — all but one of them multiple times (sorry Riverside). In addition, I got to see 15 other schools play, making it 28 different state teams I watched at least once.
So I decided to look back on this most-fractured season and rank the 10 best games I saw. Maybe not the 10 closest ones, or the 10 with the best teams involved, but the 10 that piqued my interest the most.
10. Nitro 55, Lincoln County 45 (Feb. 14 at Nitro): This one looked like a blowout right from the start, as the Wildcats roared into a 36-14 lead with eight first-half 3-pointers. But the Panthers never relented, trimming it back to 50-43 with two minutes left and getting three good looks to make it closer, but none fell. Sophomore Kolton Painter excelled for Nitro with 22 points, but the best player on the floor that night might have been Panthers’ John Blankenship (23 points, 10 rebounds, four steals). Oddity: LC guard Isaiah Koontz fouled out with 3:39 left; at that point, his team had five fouls in the entire game — all on him.
9. Poca 70, Buffalo 60 (Jan. 21 at Poca): Opted to go here because it might have been my only chance to see Buffalo, and wasn’t expecting anything resembling a close game. But with four minutes left, the Dots led just 54-52. That’s the No. 4 team in Class AA (at the time) whose only losses were to defending state champions University (AAA) and Chapmanville (AA) going against a Class A county rival that was under .500 all season. Poca played OK — 51 percent shooting, only seven turnovers and a plus-11 rebound margin. The Bison just didn’t back down behind Noah Thompson (14 points) and Alec Hanshaw (14 points, nine rebounds).
8. South Charleston 77, Ripley 53 (Feb. 27 at Ripley): Don’t let the final score fool you. It was a game for a long time. In fact, the Vikings led 31-29 two minutes into the third quarter when the Black Eagles went on a lights-out 22-0 rally to end the period and, ultimately, end the suspense. SC had perhaps its best shooting night of the season, hitting 65 percent in the second half (17 of 26) and 55 percent overall (28 of 51). That included a wicked total of 15 3-pointers, five each by Darius Dawson (19 points) and Harold Pannell (15 points). For the Vikes, Ty Johnson actually improved his pregame averages with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
7. Buffalo 60, Sherman 58 (Feb. 29 at Hurricane): Went here at the last minute when Greater Beckley Christian at George Washington was canceled due to snow in Raleigh County. Turned out to be an entertaining, back-and-forth sectional opener. The Tide burst into an early 20-8 lead behind Chris Abbott (21 points), then the Bison recovered and were up seven late in third quarter. Sherman led going into the final minute, but the game was decided when Buffalo’s David Whittington canned two free throws to break a tie with 1.4 seconds left. That was the season, however, for Whittington, who came down with an illness and didn’t play in the Bisons’ ensuing loss to top seed Tug Valley.
6. George Washington 63, Cabell Midland 54 (Jan. 31 at GW): Another one of those games where you think it’s over, but it really isn’t. The Patriots surged into a 20-point lead late in the third quarter before the Knights came battling back with a 16-3 run, utilizing lots of pressure defense and crashing the offensive boards. When Chandler Schmidt (24 points, seven rebounds, three steals) turned a theft into a layup, Midland was within 60-54 with 1:46 remaining in the game. However, the comeback ended then and there as George Washington’s Evan Hughes sank 3 of 4 at the free-throw line in the final 1:12.
5. Capital 75, Woodrow Wilson 71 (Feb. 4 at Capital): This was tight all the way through, with an early eight-point lead by the Flying Eagles the biggest gap. The Cougars led the entire fourth quarter, except when Richard Law began a 3-point barrage for Woodrow with 3:02 left, knocking down a long shot with a defender in his face to make it 65-all. Law (27 points, 6 of 10 on 3-pointers) nailed three straight 3s to keep the Flying Eagles afloat. Down 72-71 with 25 seconds left, Woodrow got one final chance when Capital had a turnover. But Kcion Welch got the last of his seven steals on the next inbound play and hit two foul shots to put Capital up 74-71.
4. Scott 85, Charleston Catholic 80 (Jan. 16 at Catholic): Perhaps the craziest game I saw all season, with NBA-like runs. Catholic gained a 10-point lead midway into the second quarter, but Scott went back up before halftime. And on it went. The wildest part came in the closing moments, as the Skyhawks saw a 19-point lead with a little over three minutes left evaporate to almost nothing. The Irish shaved it back to 82-80 when Marshall Pile found Aiden Satterfield for a basket with 14 seconds on the clock. Catholic hoisted a 3 that could have tied it with six seconds to go, but it missed. Scott’s Jon Hamilton (32 points) and Jagger Bell (29), a pair of 1,200-point career scorers, led the way.
3. Chapmanville 45, Poca 40 (Jan. 17 at Poca): At the time, it was No. 1 in AA (Chapmanville) against No. 3 (Poca), and it lived up to the billing. Each team’s best player shined — the Tigers’ Obinna Anochili-Killen (25 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks) and the Dots’ Isaac McKneely (20 points). The game was also a chess match, thanks to the 6-foot-9 Killen. Poca was 5 of 26 shooting inside the 3-point arc as Killen lurked down low, but 10 of 17 on 3-pointers (six by McKneely) to stay in the game, getting 30 of its 40 points there. Chapmanville raced to a 17-3 lead early, then Poca surged within two points by halftime, then the Tigers were up by 11 before the Dots got within 37-35 with less than two minutes left.
2. St. Albans 69, Capital 59 (March 4 at Capital): The Red Dragons led from start to finish in this Class AAA sectional semifinal, going up by as many as 15 points, though the Cougars did get within four with 1:12 left. The magic of this game was the fact that SA made it all the way back to Kanawha Valley relevance — it ended an eight-year, 10-game losing streak to Capital and earned its first postseason win in five years. The Dragons’ previous four sectional games resulted in losses by an average of 24-plus points. Senior Ethan Clay was beaming afterward when asked how many sectional games he’d won in his career: “Zero,’’ he said emphatically, “but now I’ve got one.’’
1. Charleston Catholic 70, Cabell Midland 64 (Jan. 25 at Catholic): The Class A Irish struck a blow for little schools everywhere, beating a team that was 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class AAA. The Knights were held to just 18 second-half points after leading 46-31 at halftime and pushing that advantage to 17 on a K.K. Siebert dunk to start the third quarter. You want runs? They had runs. Midland had rallies of 13-0 in the first half and 19-2 in the second half. The Irish posted runs of 12-2 in the first half and 29-7 in the second half. Catholic was also plus-8 in rebounding. Chandler Schmidt (18 points, six rebounds) led the Knights and Satterfield (19 points, 10 rebounds) topped the Irish.