MORGANTOWN — Morgantown coach Dave Tallman has made his regular season philosophy clear since he took over the Mohigans in 2014. The harder the schedule, the more prepared his group will be come the start of the postseason.
MHS faced Class AAA No. 1 Martinsburg and No. 2 University twice apiece, and took on Class AA No. 2 Fairmont Senior. The Mohigans also went head to head with defending Pennsylvania Class A champion Kennedy Catholic before a trip to Disney World.
From Dec. 22-Feb 18, MHS went 7-9 and looked destined to miss the state tournament for the first time since 2015, but caught fire at the end of the season and is riding a 5-game winning streak heading into Thursday’s state quarterfinals matchup against Capital.
“You want to play a tough schedule to get ready, but I also think it helped us win our region down the stretch,” Tallman said. “We were tired, we were beat up, we were bruised and banged up, but we’re healthy now and ready to go.”
Senior guard Cam Selders — the team’s top scorer — battled a concussion, and senior forward Lamar Haskins suffered a broken hand, which added to the Mohigans’ woes, but both returned for the stretch run.
Tallman thinks his team started to believe in what it was capable of after the second loss at Martinsburg. After losing to the Bulldogs by 21 earlier in the season, the Mohigans (16-9) kept it close in the fourth quarter and lost by just seven points.
“I don’t like to celebrate losses, but I felt like when we walked out of that locker room, there was a different buzz with our guys,” Tallman said. “I finally proved to themselves that they could play with the top teams in the state. I always knew we could, but I didn’t think they believed it until that moment.”
It finally came to fruition in the sectional championship at UHS, when MHS snapped an 8-game losing streak to the Hawks on a buzzer-beater by Garrett Haines. The emotion from that win rolled over into the regional final, an 86-40 win for the Mohigans.
Selders is averaging 15.1 points per game, while Haines is the only other double-digit scorer, adding 10.1. Senior center Nick Malone, though, is playing his best ball of the season and is bringing down 6.5 rebounds per game.
Tallman credits his role players for the turnaround, going 14-deep in certain games, led by Alex Rudy, Mac McMillen, Carson Poffenberger and Luke Bechtel.
“The cupboards not bare — those guys have done a good job giving us some depth,” Tallman said.
Tallman and the Mohigans played Capital in the state semifinals two years ago, falling short after a Torin Hanson halfcourt heave rattled in and out of the rim. As for this meeting, Tallman knows that his biggest issue could be — handling the Cougars (20-5) press.
“They’re going to press us the entire game, so if we can handle that, make our easy shots and make our foul shots, I think we’ll have an opportunity to win, but their pressure is going to give us fits,” he said. “We don’t have a true point guard, so we’ve been working on that.”
Capital has a balanced scoring effort, led by Ethan Kent and Karrington Hill, each scoring 10 points per game. Kerion Martin and Covante Duncan are right behind at 9 per game.
“You have to guard as a team, basically, and our guys have bought into the fact that it could be there for someone else on any particular night,” Cougars coach Matt Greene said. “We’ve had at least 4-5 guys score 20 points, so it makes it tough on other teams and it’s fun for us because it keeps everyone involved.”
The game, set for 11:15 a.m. Thursday at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, will have a live audio stream at wvmetronews.com.
The winner will take on the winner of No. 1 Martinsburg vs. No. 8 Parkersburg South at 5:30 p.m. Friday.