By Grant Traylor
Just how big was the buildup for the boys basketball early-season matchup Friday between Woodrow Wilson and Huntington High?
“Man, I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Huntington High forward Arick Nicks. “I was just so ready to play. I didn’t go to sleep until like 4 a.m. I couldn’t wait to get on the court. I was amped.”
The game lived up to the hype as the teams traded runs throughout the contest. In the end, Huntington High fended off a charge from Woodrow Wilson to earn a 77-68 win over the Flying Eagles.
“When you play a team like Woodrow, you know they are going to make runs,” Huntington High coach Ron Hess said. “You’re not going to get a big lead on them and keep it because they’re going to keep coming. When we really needed a big basket, we put the ball inside to Arick.”
Nicks, a football player for the Highlanders playing in his first basketball game this season, had 22 points and nine rebounds. He had eight points and four rebounds in the final quarter with the game on the line.
While Nicks was the constant on the interior for the Highlanders, it was the elevated play of Anthony Meadows and J.R. Howard down the stretch that proved pivotal.
Woodrow Wilson had momentum following a 3-pointer by DaiDai Fortune, trailing 64-63 with possession and just less than three minutes remaining.
Meadows altered a shot at the rim that would’ve given the Flying Eagles the lead and secured the defensive rebound. He then took a pass in the Highlanders’ next offensive set and drove to the rim for a layup.
Two possessions later, Meadows drew the defense on another drive and kicked out to Howard for a 3-point dagger that stretched the lead to three possessions with 1:30 remaining.
Howard scored 14 while Meadows finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“Anthony made some huge plays down the stretch,” Hess said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He had some nice drives and when they collapsed on him, he hit J.R. for the 3-pointer that really helped us.”
Woodrow Wilson had just one field goal in the final 3:30 of the contest.
Huntington High never trailed, but Woodrow Wilson was able to rally from an early deficit to tie the game in the third quarter with a 12-3 run.
The Flying Eagles forced the Highlanders into 21 turnovers, but countered that with 17 of their own, including two on possessions where they had a chance to take their first lead. The run came after the Highlanders took a 36-29 lead into the locker room following a first half that featured a fast pace and solid shooting from the outside for both teams.
The catalyst for the early lead was senior guard Chancelor Wooding, who hit his first six shots from the floor and finished the game 7-of-8 from the field with five 3-pointers.
Wooding’s fifth 3-pointer came on a step-back move and gave the Highlanders a 30-16 lead with 5:20 to go in the first half. He matched Nicks with 22 points for Huntington High (2-0).
Nicks said Wooding’s presence was crucial early for the Highlanders to get in rhythm.
“That helped everyone get their spirits up and say, ‘Yeah, we can do this,’” Nicks said. “Chancelor set the spark for us tonight.”
It was a much-better start to the contest than last year’s game in Beckley when the Highlanders fell behind quickly and weren’t able to recover.
“We talked about that we had to start the game better than we did against them last year because we went out and all of the sudden we were down by 12 points in four minutes,” Hess said. “We knew we had to get out of the gate and get some confidence. Chancelor definitely hit some big shots for us and it settled down the younger kids in a big game against a team who has been a power for years.”
In addition to it being the first game for Nicks and point guard Nick Tubbs for Huntington High, it was also the season-opener for Woodrow Wilson, the defending Class AAA state runner-up.
“It’s a good gauge,” Kidd said. “I’d have liked to get one game like they did before we played to get those jitters out, but I like playing a game like this early.”
Fortune finished with 21 points to lead Woodrow Wilson while Donte Nabors ended with 14, despite hitting just five of 14 shots from the floor. Jalen Breckenridge added 13 and Nequan Carrington had 11 for the Flying Eagles.
Breckenridge 13, Carrington 11, Nabors 14, C. Hancock 9, Fortune 21.
Nicks 22, Dunn-Martin 9, Wooding 22, Howard 14, Meadows 10.
WW 15 14 21 18 — 68
H 22 14 19 22 — 77