One down and two to go.
That’s the businesslike attitude that No. 1-ranked Man is taking after the Hillbillies thrashed No. 8 seed Tucker County 74-34 Tuesday evening during the Class A quarterfinals at the Charleston Coliseum.
Man (14-2), the tourney favorite, moves on to play Webster County at 7:15 p.m. Thursday for the right to play in Saturday morning’s state finals. Webster is the 2019 and defending Class A champ since last season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Man, making its first trip to the state tournament in nine years and seventh overall appearance, is searching for its first-ever state championship in boys basketball. It’s also the first win by the Hillbillies in the state tourney since 1998 when Man downed Grafton 73-58 in the AA quarterfinals before taking a semifinal exit at the hands of Tucker.
Man coach T.J. Blevins said he’s proud of what his team has done, steadily improving from an 0-22 winless season four years ago to being the team to beat in Class A.
“We take a lot of pride back home. We have a great community that backs us,” Blevins said. “I’ve always said that the town of Man is as big as it’s spelled. We have a small town. There’s something special being from Man and doing what we are doing right now.
“We executed very well in the second half, but I didn’t like how we played in the first half. So I challenged them in the locker room. I will let this slide with this the big lights and the nervousness. We were looking at our kids in the locker room and they were in a daze. I’m glad that it’s out of the way.”
Man’s 6-foot-7 junior center Austin Ball had a monster game, with double-double numbers of 27 points and 13 rebounds. He also had three blocks, three steals, three assists and a slam dunk, which gave him 1,000 points for his career.
Christian Toler came off the bench to tally 15 points for the Billies, while Peyton Adams netted 11 points and Jackson Tackett 10. Adams added six assists and six steals.
Zach Colebank led Tucker County (12-6) with 16 points and Ashton Lycliter also broke into double digits with 10 points.
The Mountain Lions shot a woeful 18.2% from the floor, making only 10 of 55 of their field goals. Man was 27 of 71 shooting for 38%.
Man led 32-20 at the half and then began to pull away from the Mountain Lions, going on a 22-1 scoring spree to break things wide open at 54-21.
Toler’s 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer gave the Billies a 64-27 lead after three. Man then coasted in the fourth quarter, emptying its bench.
Tucker outrebounded Man 53-45 and only turned the ball over six times to 17 for the Billies. Man outscored the Mountain Lions 42-16 in the paint and tallied a 24-6 edge in points off turnovers.
Mountain Lions coach Daniel Helmick said his team was able to hold on for a while, but it was just not enough.
“In the first half, we got what we wanted, but it kind of snowballed there in the second half,” Helmick said. “Give them credit. They are ranked number one in the state and they are pretty good. We won just four games last year so we are coming along at the right time.”
Man last played in the state state tournament in 2012 when the Billies lost 62-57 to Charleston Catholic in the opening round. The farthest the Billies have gone was 1990, as Man knocked off Tolsia (91-84) and Midland Trail (86-80) to advance to the Class AA state championship game, losing to Wheeling Central (94-68).
Blevins, now in his fifth year, has seen his Billies steadily improve every year. Man was 18-6 last season and bowed out from the Class AA sectionals at the hands of Chapmanville and lost no seniors from that team.
“This is my fifth year and we were 0-22 my first year,” Blevins said. “I don’t like to lose in checkers, so you can imagine how that was.”