By Rick Ryan
If South Charleston and Woodrow Wilson do indeed meet in the MSAC finals 10 days from now, the Black Eagles left a little calling card with the Flying Eagles.
Brandon Knapper erupted for a career-best 40 points and added nine rebounds Tuesday night as the Black Eagles ran off with a 74-53 victory in front of a near-capacity crowd at the South Charleston Community Center that included Aaron Dobson, the former SC standout and current New England Patriots receiver.
South Charleston (15-1), ranked No. 2 in Class AAA, extended its winning streak to 11 games, and the loss snapped an 11-game victory run by No. 4 Woodrow Wilson (12-3).
A.D. Cunningham turned in a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) as SC broke the game open with a 21-5 burst toward the end of the third quarter.
“We just played our game,’’ said Knapper, a sophomore guard. “We were waiting all week to play them, and our coaches set up some good stuff offensive-wise.’’
Knapper hit 16 of 18 free throws as SC made efficient use of the foul line, making 28 of 33 overall.
Two technical free throws by Knapper following an unusual call helped the Black Eagles seize momentum for good.
With SC up 42-37 and 3:30 left in the third quarter, Cunningham was fouled by Woodrow’s Donte Nabors. Officials ruled that Nabors struck Cunningham in the head, so he was awarded two foul shots and the Flying Eagles were also hit with a technical.
All four free throws fell, bumping the lead to nine. It also served to put Nabors, the team’s top scorer, on the bench by a Woodrow team rule for the remainder of the quarter. After Jaylon Breckenridge made 1 of 2 free throws for Woodrow, Knapper responded with a 3-pointer and Cunningham a three-point play to balloon the lead to 14. It never got closer than 13 afterward. Before that surge, the game had five ties and 10 lead changes.
“We were disjointed before that, though,’’ said Woodrow coach Ron Kidd. “That play didn’t have nothing to do with it.’’
The Flying Eagles weren’t on top of their game at either end. They shot only 27.5 percent and committed 21 turnovers. On defense, they were outscored by the combination of Knapper and Cunningham alone (57 to 53).
“That’s an embarrassment to our program,’’ Kidd said of Knapper’s 40-point game. “I’m not saying he’s not a good player. But we’ve got to have more pride than that, and not let anybody do us like that. A.D. hurt us, too — his toughness killed us on the glass.’’
SC and Woodrow could wind up meeting for the third straight time in the Mountain State Athletic Conference title game, set for Feb. 22 at the Community Center. The Black Eagles have just about clinched the West Division crown and the Flying Eagles are tied with Capital at 3-0 atop the East.
If the rematch happens, SC coach Vic Herbert realizes Tuesday’s outcome won’t mean a whole lot.
“This was a fluke, as far as I’m concerned,’’ he said. “Who would’ve expected that? They’re probably the second-best team we’ve played this year behind Knott County, Ky. For us to have our way that way with them? That was a fluke, like when they beat us 17 in the MSAC championship last year. With us and Beckley, it’s always three, four, five, six points.’’
The Black Eagles didn’t get much out of their low-post game Tuesday, but didn’t need it with Knapper and Cunningham slashing to the basket and Tre Clark coming off the bench to provide energy, along with five points and seven rebounds.
SC ended with 22 turnovers, but held a 47-42 edge in rebounding after trailing by four at halftime. Anthony Billings grabbed 10 boards for SC.
“We played our style tonight, the way we play,’’ Herbert said. “We full-court pressed them about a third of the game and that bothered them, and it usually doesn’t. We extended our 2-3 zone out to halfcourt and I think that confused them a little bit and bothered them some. They’re mainly a man-to-man team like us.
“Another key was that they got nine offensive rebounds the first half and five, six stickbacks for points off the glass. In the second half, they were one and done. They shot and we rebounded and they were done. To me, that was the difference.’’
The victory was the 99th for Herbert at SC, where he’s in his fifth season. He can reach 100 tonight at home against Nitro.
For the Flying Eagles, Nabors scored 16 points and Chase Hancock had nine rebounds.
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Woodrow Wilson (12-3)
Jaylon Breckenridge 1-8 3-5 5, Donte Nabors 4-15 6-6 16, Chase Hancock 2-8 0-0 4, Dai Dai Fortune 3-9 0-0 6, Noah Hancock 2-4 1-3 5, BRent Osborne 3-13 0-0 8, Nequan Carrington 3-8 1-4 7, Nick Deems 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 19-69 11-18 53.
South Charleston (15-1)
A.D. Cunnington 6-14 5-7 17, Brandon Napper 10-18 16-18 40, Kentre Grier 1-6 2-2 4, Jordan Lewis 0-0 0-0 0, Anthony Billings 2-7 2-2 6, Kevin Williams 1-2 0-0 2, Shawn Cunnington 0-1 0-0 0, Walter Clark 1-7 3-4 5 Totals: 21-55 28-33 74.
WW 16 16 9 12 — 53
SC 13 18 25 18 — 74
3-point goals — WW: 4 (Nabors 2, Osborne 2); SC: 4 (Knapper 4). Fouled out — WW: Osborne.