Local Sports, Preston, Sports, University

University-Preston rematch is a repeat of teams’ 1st meeting

MORGANTOWN — Way back before Christmas, the University boys basketball team traveled to Preston to face the Knights, and after a hard-fought, closely contested first half, the Hawks turned up their defensive intensity in an overwhelming third quarter to roar past the Knights to prevail, 73-49.

Tuesday night at University, the teams had a rematch and it seemed like déjà vu all over again, as the Knights hung close at the half and most of the third quarter before the Hawks’ defensive pressure and transition game finally took down their inter-county rivals, 59-37.

Neither team shot the ball well in the first quarter and only a late defensive surge by University (11-10) that forced three quick turnovers and five quick points allowed the Hawks to lead after one quarter, 14-8. While UHS then turned ice cold from the field — they didn’t score in the first five minutes of the quarter — Preston guard Brier Rugg caught fire from beyond the arc, canning three triples to pull his Knights to within a bucket at the break, 23-21.

Rugg nailed another three at the beginning of the second half and PHS (7-15) knotted the score at 25 apiece at the six-minute mark, only to see the Hawks’ press once more create havoc and force turnovers that led to easy transition baskets. The result? A 9-0 UHS run in just 120 seconds of game time.

However, a late triple from ultra-quick PHS sophomore point guard Slaton Manko sliced the UHS lead under ten at 41-33 heading into the final stanza.

But the Knights got tired and sloppy in response to the high-pressure UHS full-court defense, and the Hawks simply ran away, outscoring PHS 18-4 to put the game to bed. While Rugg led all scorers with 15, UHS forward KK Lewis was a dominating presence in the paint, scoring 14, including a lovely alley-oop lay-in, cleaning the glass on both ends of the court and registering several steals and intimidating blocks.

“He was the difference for us, no doubt,” UHS coach Joe Schmidle said. “We’ve been trying to get him to stay down low all year, and tonight he was a force. And we needed him to be a catalyst, because we shot the ball very poorly (9-29 in the first half), and even our seniors did not play hard. We played like we practiced, and we aren’t good enough to just show up and win games without energy and hard work. We need to be better, and we’re capable of being better.”

Preston coach Leroy “Bucky” Forbes felt like it was December, especially in the first half.

“Very similar game, for sure,” he smiled. “But this time, we held it together through the third quarter before we got tired and they really hurt us with their press in the fourth. We have been in just about every game we’ve played this season, and that’s a night-and-day difference from last year. We’re still young – Manko’s just a sophomore, and he’s already a special player right now — and I like how we are growing as a team.”

With Preston set to return to University next Wednesday for the Sectional semifinal, Forbes believes his team can extract several positives from this latest game, and “with two games worth of film and a full week to work on breaking their press, we hope to build on what we did right and correct our mistakes.”

“Besides,” he continued with a little grin, “Coach Schmidle knows just how hard it is to beat a team three times in one year.”

In the JV game, University defeated Preston 69-30. Mason Kemper and Connor Vira paced the Hawks with 17 each, while Wyatt Myers led the Knights with 12.

These same two teams face off in the Sectional semifinals next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at University, but not before the Hawks finish up their regular season at home Thursday, hosting Musselman at 7:30 p.m.

BY MARK SCHRAF/For The Dominion Post

University 59, Preston 37
Preston        8   13   12     4  –  37
University  14    9    18   18  –  59
PRESTON (7-15) — Brier Rugg 5 0-0 15; Zach Farrell 2 0-0 4; Kaden Bachtel 2 0-0 5; Aiden Schmidl 2 1-2 5 ; Slaton Manko 2 2-4 7; Easton Hayes 0 1-2 1. Totals 13 4-8 37.
UNIVERSITY (11-9) — Ethan Jackson 2 2-2 6; KK Lewis 6 2-6 14; Luke Hudson 4 1-2 11; James Fortney-Garbart 3 1-2 7; John Coleman 1 0-0 2; Coen Henderson 1 0-0 2; Glenn Brown 1 0-0 2; Eli Karpinski 1 0-0 2; Carson Ford 5 0-0 13.  Totals 24 6-12 59.
Three-pointers – PHS 7 (Rugg 5, Bachtel, Manko). UHS 5 (Hudson 2, Ford 3).
Fouled Out – PHS Hayes