By Greg Carey
WHEELING — Keondre King remembers a time when he was at Wheeling Park and the Patriots couldn’t compete with University.
“I remember two years ago we played University and got beat 76-28,” King recalled. “That’s always been in the back of my mind after that loss.”
The 6-foot-4 senior more than did his part Tuesday to give the Patriots a regular season split with the Hawks, scoring 18 of his 27 points during what proved to be a decisive third quarter in Wheeling Park’s 78-68 victory.
“We had Mike Maumbe on him and he’s 6-foot-6 and long,” UHS coach Joe Schmidle said. “Mike was right in his grill. He had a hand in his face and King just knocked them down. He just shot the lights out. I’ve seen him shoot well, but I’ve never seen him shoot like he did tonight. Credit to him, that was a great game.”
With the game tied at 33 at halftime, King opened the second-half scoring with a pull-up jumper. Maumbe answered with a conventional three-point play to give UHS (8-3) what proved to be its last lead.
Consecutive 3-pointers by King turned a 38-all tie into a six-point Wheeling Park (6-2) lead and forced Schmidle to call a timeout with 5:31 on the third quarter clock. But the break in the action did nothing to slow down King, who made another trey and then scored inside to up the Park lead to 49-38.
After a 3 by the Hawks’ K.J. McClurg brought the Hawks to within 50-41, King accounted for his team’s final five points of the frame on a 3 and a contested jumper, sending the Patriots into the fourth quarter with a 55-44 lead.
“My guys really found me in the second half,” King said.
A Kaden Metheny 3 allowed UHS to pull to within 58-52, but Alex Vargo answered with his third and final 3 of the game to give Park its nine-point lead back.
Metheny’s layup cut the Patriots’ lead to seven, but starting with a pair of De’Vaughn McWhorter free throws with 2:41 to play, Wheeling Park made 15-of-16 foul shots down the stretch to hold off the Hawks.
It didn’t come easily, however, as Jack Stakem made two free throws with 1:37 remaining to up the Park lead to 69-55, before a four-point play by McClurg, a deep 3 from Metheny and two foul shots from McClurg enabled University to get to within 69-64 with 1:12 left.
But Stakem made all six of his foul shots over the final 1:11 to help the Patriots hand the Hawks their first loss of the season to an in-state opponent. University entered 6-0 against state competition, including a 70-52 win at home against Wheeling Park back on Dec. 18.
“We have a nice team and Keondre King and Alex Vargo really stepped up scoring the ball tonight and then Jack Stakem knocking free throws down,” Park coach Michael Jebbia said. “Everyone contributed and when you go against Metheny and McClurg, everybody has a hand in that.”
Wheeling Park got off to a strong start and held a 16-12 lead late in the first quarter, before Metheny drained a shot from well beyond the arc to bring the Hawks to within one point.
The Hawks used a 12-3 run to start the second quarter to hold a 27-19 lead, with Metheny and McClurg accounting for five points apiece during the surge.
Vargo scored seven points over the final few minutes of the second quarter, however, including a 3 and a 10-foot jumper that helped the Patriots pull even at the break.
With King sidelined after picking up a pair of offensive fouls in the second quarter, the 6-5 Vargo stepped up in a big way and finished the first half with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
“Vargo kind of took over in the second quarter and then King did it in the third,” Jebbia said. “University is a good defensive team and they’re ready for help and both of Kings fouls were charges. Sometimes I’ll play our best players with two, but I just felt like there was so much game left and let’s rest him. I didn’t put him back in and we went on a little run, so it was good.”
Metheny scored 15 of his team-high 27 points over the first two quarters, but finished 10-of-27 from the field in defeat. McClurg added 24 points in the loss, but no other UHS player scored more than six points.
Ryan Niceler recorded nine rebounds in the loss.
Wheeling Park, which shot better than 58 percent from the field (24-of-41) got 21 points from Vargo in addition to King’s standout performance. Vargo made 9-of-13 field goals, while King shot 10-of-16.
McWhorter made 8-of-9 free throws and added 13 points in the win, while Stakem scored 10 points on 10-of-10 shooting at the charity stripe.
“We had a bad practice yesterday and I knew before we came up here we weren’t ready to play,” Schmidle said. “It’s just one of those things. But Wheeling Park played great and shot the lights out. Hats off to those guys.”