TENNERTON — There is a tried and true adage in sports, one that every athlete has likely heard at one point in his or her career: Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. If you ask Morgantown girls’ basketball head coach Jason White, he’ll agree with the sentiment.
MHS junior Sydni Clawges and freshman Kaitlyn Ammons exploded for a combined 41 points during the Feb. 22 WVSSAC Class AAA Region 1 Section 2 final against host Buckhannon-Upshur, but in the end the Buccaneers’ outstanding defense earned their squad a 53-49 victory.
“We shouldn’t walk out of that locker room with our heads down. I was proud of our effort,” White said. Buckhannon-Upshur “is the number one team in the state — they only have one loss on the year — and I thought we battled well. But we turned the ball over and they got shots we couldn’t defend. Those lay-ups are backbreakers.”
It wasn’t that the MHS defense was lackluster — the Mohigans held B-U nine points under its season average, including stifling the Buccaneers’ offense in the first and third quarters, where they scored a combined 11 points.
“Our defensive effort was great; it was fantastic,” White said of his squad’s performance.
However, the best laid plans were not enough for the Mohigans, as B-U smothered its opponents with full-court traps all evening. The hosts spread the MHS offense thin, forcing long, drawn out passes while using their speed to clog the lanes and force turnovers that resulted in easy buckets.
“We wanted to be more aggressive offensively than we were at times,” White said. “We had poor spacing, we were too spaced out — a lot of time, poor spacing means you’re too close together, we were making too long of passes in the game, and that gave quick guards from Buckhannon the opportunity to run through passing lanes.”
“Their defense is a really tight; you have to attack it, and draw their players in,” Clawges said of her competition. “Then you just look for the open girl.”
In the end, though, there weren’t enough open passes, and the B-U defensive attack created a storm MHS could not weather.
“There were just too many turnovers up top that we couldn’t defend. There’s no question that made the difference, we just can’t defend it,” White said. “You take those turnover points away and it’s a different game. But credit to Buckhannon, that’s what they’ve got to do to be successful and they’re very good at it.”
The highlight of the game for MHS proved to be its offensive post play, as Clawges and Ammons attacked the block, outhustling and outplaying their match-ups from buzzer to buzzer. Each girls notched a double-double, with Clawges tallying 17 rebounds in addition to her 22 points, while Ammons added 13 boards with 19 points.
“That was what we had to do to be successful was to go inside and take advantage of their lack of height and depth in the paint, and I thought we did well with that,” White said. “It was exactly what you’re looking for out of your post, and Buckhannon was much smaller than us, so that was obviously a part of the game plan — to attack inside. But they put so much pressure on the guards they made that difficult.”
The B-U defense adjusted to the post attack in the second half, doubling down on the post and forcing MHS to make tight passes from inside-out and rely on a struggling shooting performance.
“I drove with the ball a lot because our biggest advantage was our size, but our disadvantage was us getting nervous,” Clawges said. “They would collapse on me, and I would look for the open girl to kick to.”
MHS will play the winner of the Region 1 Section 1 final between John Marshall and Wheeling Park. The game will take place Tuesday, and is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off.
“The message from tonight is, we have to come out and play with that effort and intensity Tuesday night to get to Charleston,” White said. “We’re 32 minutes away and this game didn’t change that.”