By Cam Huffman
No. 4 Greenbrier East entered Friday’s Class AAA boys game at the Big Atlantic Classic with a 15-0 record, thanks, in large part, to Rondale Watson’s halfcourt bucket at the buzzer to beat Tug Valley last Friday.
This time, the junior star’s prayer wasn’t answered.
Watson’s halfcourt heave as the horn sounded at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center clanged off the backboard as Point Pleasant (5-8) pulled off a 62-60 upset to hand head coach Jim Justice — who also coaches the Spartan girls, who improved to 13-0 with a win over Preston earlier in the day — his first loss of the season.
As the rival Woodrow Wilson cheerleaders celebrated in the corner, Watson was left lying on the hardwood of Dave Barksdale Court in disappointment.
“Whether it’s in business, sports or whatever, even if you’re Mike Tyson, about the time you think you’re on top of the world, that’s when you get beat,” said Justice. “We didn’t play with the intensity we needed, and we made plays that aren’t indicative of the type of team we are. But they’re kids. That happens. Tonight, we really slipped, mentally.”
Down 60-58 with 11.9 seconds to play, Greenbrier East was able to tie the game when Watson, who finished with a game-best 30 points and 11 rebounds, sank a pair of pressure free throws with 5.1 seconds remaining. But when Point Pleasant threw the ball the length of the court, East was whistled for a foul as both teams battled for the ball. Wade Martin went to the line and knocked down a pair, giving his team the 2-point lead that proved to be the final margin when Watson’s shot missed the mark.
“It feels really good,” said Point Pleasant head coach Josh Williams, who has led his team to four straight wins after starting 1-8, changing the team’s focus to playing defense and trying to slow down the pace of games. “We struggled out of the gate, but we’re starting to get healthy. This was just the fourth game that our starters have played together.”
While the final seconds provided most of the drama, Greenbrier East put itself in position for a loss with its struggles early in the game.
After taking an 18-10 lead at the end of the opening quarter, when starting point guard Bryce Woodliff hit a 3-pointer from the corner as the horn sounded, the Spartans went into the tank, going through the motions and playing uninspired basketball.
The eight-point advantage quickly disappeared, and the Big Blacks went on a 10-1 run to open the second quarter. They took their first lead since going up 3-0 early in the game when Dillion McCarty got in the lane for a bucket that put his team ahead 20-19 with 5:18 left before halftime.
“We were slinging the ball around, trying to throw (alley) oops and not playing our game,” said Justice. “We just can’t do that.”
Greeenbrier East pulled back in front, but McCarty hit a long 3-pointer just before halftime to send his team to the locker room with a 33-32 lead and, more importantly, plenty of confidence.
The Spartans turned up the defensive pressure out of the break, holding Point Pleasant to only nine points in the third quarter. East led by as many as five in the third and took a 46-42 lead into the final eight minutes.
East, though, couldn’t cool off the hot shooting of junior Alex Somerville down the stretch. He hit two of his seven 3-pointers — he finished 7-for-9 from behind the arc, and Point Pleasant was 9-for-21 as a team — in the final five minutes, and the Big Blacks pulled back in front 55-53 with 3:28 left, setting up the frantic back-and-forth finish.
Somerville’s 26 points led Point Pleasant, while McCarty scored 14.
“They shot the ball great and handled our press,” said Justice. “You have to give them a lot of credit.”
Obi Romeo was the only other double-figure scorer for the Spartans, besides Watson. The big center scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but he played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble.
Greenbrier East found just two points off its bench, while Point Pleasant got 35, including Somerville’s 26.
Greenbrier East will play Musselman in a Class AAA consolation game today at 12:20 p.m.
“I won’t have to say a whole lot,” said Justice, when asked how he will get his team inspired to pick up its play. “Playing in that game is like the penalty box.”
Point Pleasant will play Parkersburg South tonight at 9 p.m. in one of two Class AAA championship games.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Williams. “We’ll have to play extremely well and play smart.”
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Point Pleasant (5-8)
Dillon McCarty 5 3-6 14, Brian Gibbs 0 0-0 0, Adam Slack 1 0-0 2, Aden Yates 2 2-6 6, Wade Martin 1 3-4 5, Garrett Norris 3 0-0 7, Andrew Williamson 0 0-0 0, Alex Somerville 9 1-2 26, Nate Chapman 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 9-18 62.
Greenbrier East (15-1)
Derrick Weiford 2 0-0 5, Obi Romeo 4 5-8 13, Rondale Watson 10 10-15 30, Bryce Woodliff 3 0-0 8, Evan Ramsey 1 0-0 2, Owen Browning 0 0-0 0, Deante Erskine 0 0-0 0, Ryan Lindsey 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 15-23 60.
P 10 23 9 20 — 62
H 18 14 14 14 — 60
3-point goals — P: 9 (Somerville 7, Norris, McCarty); GE: 3 (Woodliff 2, Weiford). Fouled out — P (Yates).쇓