WHEELERSBURG — The buildup behind Friday night’s West at Wheelersburg boys basketball tilt was unlike any in recent memory.
The host and powerhouse Pirates were undefeated, but the visiting and senior-laden Senators stormed into Wheelersburg ‘Winators’ of eight consecutive.
So something — eventually, ultimately and finally — had to give, and it did so with Wheelersburg’s third-quarter blitzkrieg.
That’s because the Pirates erupted for 25 third-period points to West’s nine, as Wheelersburg broke a 23-23 halftime tie —and went on to turn 21 in a row in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II with a convincing 62-43 runaway victory.
Yes, that’s right — Wheelersburg won its 21st straight SOC II bout, as the larger-school division is always considered one of the state’s stiffest in terms of competition.
The undefeated Pirates raised their records to 13-0 and 11-0 in the league, as the two-time defending division champion continues to turn back all challenges —and so all good things haven’t come to an end for them.
For West, meanwhile, one good thing — its eight-game winning streak —did come to an end.
The Senators fell to 9-4, and to 7-4 in the SOC II — as the Pirates also completed the season sweep.
West, which split with Minford and with Waverly and fresh off its stunning triumph in the Tigers’ den a week earlier, was recharged for its rematch with Wheelersburg —and its 1-3-1 half-court trapping zone defense did present the Pirates problems early on.
The Pirates shot seven of 30 for 23-percent in the opening half, and went back-and-forth with West with four lead changes and four ties — including at 8-8 at the first stop followed by the 23-23 halftime deadlock.
But the physical, experienced, long and quick Pirates — and senior J.J. Truitt — finally started hitting in the third quarter, as Truitt swished all three of his three-point goals in the frame.
Matthew Miller mustered eight points in the period, Carter McCorkle made another two baskets, and soon enough —before you could blink — Wheelersburg was off and running to a 48-32 advantage by quarter’s end.
The Pirates are known for their uncanny ability to flip the switch, and their physicality and ball pressure picked up in intensity in the third quarter — combining with their transition game for points.
The Senators shot 11-of-25 for 44-percent in the opening half, but fell to 31-percent on 9-of-29 in the second.
“We turned up our ball pressure and starting guarding more effectively, and that was able to turn them over. We thought we could do that, but in the first half, we weren’t locked in defensively. And offensively, it just takes time. You can work against that (Senators 1-3-1 zone) in practice, but until you get out there and see their length, physicality and intensity, all the things you plan go out the window. In the second half, we have a veteran group of guys that have been through a lot of battles. There was no panic, just settle in and just go play,” said Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater. “Honestly, our message at halftime wasn’t a lot of adjustments. It was just go play basketball. Our guys did a great job of doing that.”
Both teams took at least 50 shots (West 54 and Wheelersburg 50), and each made 20 total field goals.
The Pirates, though, got into the Senators’ legs —and that showed in the second half and especially at the free-throw line, with West shooting just 1-of-13 while Wheelersburg went to the stripe 27 times and meshed 17.
“Their physicality just really started wearing on us. They are just so physical,” said West coach Caleb McClanahan. “And it hurt our defense throughout the game. We turned the ball over too much and missed some shots, and gave them some transition points. I think our kids are really physical, but every time we caught the ball, it just felt like they were right there in our faces. The free-throw shooting showed that.”
From three-point range in the opening 16 minutes, the Pirates made just 2-of-14 — before Truitt heated up in the third.
Luke Howard hit a three-ball off the wing for the Senators’ final lead at 26-25, but the Pirates immediately answered with a Miller bucket and the first of Truitt’s treys —from the corner pocket — at the 6:05 mark.
Truitt finished with a game-high 19 points on two twos, his three third-quarter threes, and 6-of-7 foul shots —including 4-of-5 in the fourth quarter.
Miller followed suit with 15 points on five field goals and 4-of-5 freebies, as he scored all but two of his points in the middle two stanzas.
Miller made it a double-double with a game-high 10 rebounds.
“I thought J.J. (Truitt) was unbelievable tonight and had some big takes and hit some big threes there in the third quarter. That really helped us get going, and I thought Matthew (Miller’s) energy was fantastic again,” said Ater. “Those two led us again, but all the guys in the rotation gave us great lifts at different points throughout the game.”
The third senior in that starting lineup, McCorkle, finished with four field goals and a split of fourth-quarter foul shots for nine points.
Kenny Sanderlin scored seven points on two buckets and 3-of-6 free throws, while Eli Swords scored six, Jonah Lawson landed four, and Cooper McKenzie made one basket.
The Pirates never trailed for the game’s final 14 minutes and 55 seconds.
Ten Senators scored, but none reached double figures — as Ryan Sissel scored eight points on four field goals to lead the way.
The Pirates forced West into 19 turnovers, and only 2-of-9 for 22-percent from three-point land.
McClanahan said that although he hated to see the ‘Winators’ winning streak end, he knew the challenge his Senators were up against with Wheelersburg.
“They are one of the best teams in southeastern Ohio, and we knew it was going to be a dogfight when we came in here tonight,” he said. “Our kids really fought and gave everything they had for a half. To win eight games in a row in basketball is a difficult thing to do. So credit to our kids for being tough and accomplishing that. But I just think we eventually got worn out tonight. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen our guys come over and they were just exhausted. And they (Pirates) are playing tremendous basketball right now.”
Indeed, something had to give on Friday night, as the Pirates press on with their undefeated campaign.
“It’s a great group of guys. The culture is so good with these guys. They are so close and connected and cheer for each other’s success,” said Ater. “When you have that, you can be special. So far this year, with all the adversity we’ve had, these guys have just stuck together. I think that’s the biggest thing. We’re starting to dial in defensively what we need to do and the connectivity is starting to show up where our guys are working together so well. Then offensively, the ball is moving and we’re getting different guys — three or four guys — in double figures every night. We’re excited for the opportunity to play and the chance to get better every game.”
* * *
Portsmouth West 8 15 9 11 — 43
Wheelersburg 8 15 25 14 —62
WEST 43 (9-4, 7-4 SOC II)
Ryan Sissel 4 0-3 8, Eli Adkins 1 0-0 3, Luke Howard 2 0-0 5, Jesse Dixon 1 0-2 2, Marion Phillips 0 1-2 1, Steven Sadler 0 0-0 0, Noah Coleman 3 0-0 6, Luke Bradford 3 0-0 6, Brandon Koch 0 0-0 0, Brennan Overby 0 0-1 0, Jacob Davis 1 0-3 2, Rodney Moore 3 0-2 6, Mitchell Irwin 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 20 1-13 43; Three-point field goals: 2 (Eli Adkins and Luke Howard 1 apiece)
WHEELERSBURG 62 (13-0, 11-0 SOC II)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Matthew Miller 5 4-5 15, Eli Swords 2 1-2 6, Nolan Wright 0 0-0 0, Jonah Lawson 1 2-2 4, Carter McCorkle 4 1-3 9, J.J. Truitt 5 6-7 19, Gage Adkins 0 0-2 0, Braxton Rase 0 0-0 0, Cooper McKenzie 1 0-0 2, Kenny Sanderlin 2 3-6 7; TOTALS 20 17-27 62; Three-point field goals: 5 (J.J. Truitt 3, Matthew Miller and Eli Swords 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved