KINGWOOD — Hosting rival Morgantown on Jan. 18 and coming off a solid 69-59 road win at East Fairmont, the improved Preston boys’ basketball team hoped to continue to play well on the road back to respectability, and perhaps even pull off the upset.
For the Mohigans, losers of three straight while fighting through a schedule ranked by the WVSSAC as the toughest in Class AAA, all they wanted was one thing: An elusive W — any way they could get it.
And thanks to relentless trapping defensive pressure, MHS got it. The Mohigans took control early and muscled their way to a comfortable 82-42 victory.
Early on, neither team was in synch offensively, but MHS coach Dave Tallman dialed up the defensive intensity by double-teaming the ball all over the court. Senior guard Jayron Wilson’s lightning quick hands and feet produced first-quarter turnovers and transition lay-ins as the Mohigans sprinted to an 8-2 lead.
Preston’s smooth senior forward Jake Livengood kept the Knights within range with six points from the paint.
But Morgantown never let up on the ball pressure, and while the Knights were effective when they broke the press, that occurred far fewer times than PHS coach Paul Koontz would’ve liked. As a result, the Mohigans closed the half with a 5-0 burst to take a 33-19 lead at the break.
Once the Knights cut the lead to single digits early in the second half, the pace opened up, much to the Mohigans’ liking. Fast-break buckets by forward Lamar Haskins (who led MHS with 13 points) broke the game wide open, and by the tail end of the final quarter, the Morgantown reserves had stretched the final gap to 40 points.
“It was good to see the ball go down tonight,” Tallman said with a smile. “I thought we played with energy and effort tonight, and for the first time in a while, we got back to our game. Morgantown basketball has always been about strong defense, and we got on our toes tonight instead of on our heels. We dictated the pace, and that’s how we have to play to be successful. And anytime you come out of this gym with a win, that’s a good thing.”
Preston’s Koontz could only be surprised by the outcome, and not at all in a good way.
“While we haven’t practiced in a long time due to the weather, and you always need time in the gym to prepare for good teams like Morgantown, we were not going to use that as an excuse,” he said, “and I never expected a blowout. No way. We had no energy, and took way too many plays off. Even if four guys are working hard and doing what they’re supposed to be doing, good teams will expose that one guy every time. It seems like there weren’t very many sequences where all five guys were together.
“We’re very young,” he continued, “but we still haven’t learned to appreciate just how important every possession is. But as bad as we were tonight, the good news is that we get to shower this game away and get right back to work the next day, against Grafton. It’s a Big 10 Conference game, and we’d better be ready to play.”
In the JV game, MHS held Preston scoreless in the third quarter to break open a close game and cruise to a 71-39 win. Four Mohigans scored in double figures, led by Rashad Alton’s 16, while Zach Shannon paced the Knights with 10.
Morgantown travels to Martinsburg on Saturday, while the Knights host Grafton tonight, with tipoff at 7:30.