By Cam Huffman
Trailing by 12 points just before halftime of Tuesday night’s game at Class AAA No. 4 Greenbrier East, Logan head coach Mark Hatcher turned to the officials, the scorers table and the fans behind his bench and said, “I’ll bet you a billion they won’t win when they come to Logan. Their undefeated season will come to a halt.”
The veteran coach will have a chance to cash in on that wager when the Spartans visit the home of the Wildcats for the two-day King Coal Classic later this month. Greenbrier East and Logan are scheduled to meet on Jan. 26, the second day of that showcase. But for now, the Spartans (10-0) are still perfect, building upon their best start since 1986 with a 60-53 victory over Logan (2-6) in front of a packed house at Spartan Gymnasium.
East will have an opportunity to equal the 11-0 start of that ’86 squad, which included future Olympian and NBA star Bimbo Coles, when it travels to Alleghany (Va.) on Thursday to face a team it defeated 77-41 earlier this season.
“It’s gratifying to me,” said Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice, who also coaches the school’s undefeated girls team, which is ranked No. 1 in Class AAA. “We’ve worked very hard to get everybody involved. It’s really special to see the people turn out.
“This could have almost been like a trap game,” he continued, admitting that it was a difficult game for which to prepare after beating rival Woodrow Wilson in Beckley for the first time in almost 20 years the last time out and facing a Logan team that he believed was better than its record indicated.
East had to overcome a poor shooting night and a sloppy finish to hold off Logan, which played better with 6-foot-8 senior center T.J. Tomblin back in the lineup.
Logan, in fact, led 12-9 late in the first quarter and 20-19 with five minutes to play before halftime as East junior guard Rondale Watson, a state player of the year candidate, struggled to get his game going. Watson, who scored 26 points the last time out in a Spartan victory over rival Woodrow Wilson, didn’t score a single field goal until 2:26 in the second quarter. His driving layups wouldn’t fall, and every jumper seemed to rim out.
“It was a long ways from his best game, and he got frustrated and got to pushing,” said Justice, who took over the boys team last year and led it to its second winning season in the last 10 years. “I called one 30-second timeout and said, ‘Rondale, this is your timeout. You’ve got to quit pushing.’
“He’s a great player, but he just didn’t have his best game.”
Senior point guard Bryce Woodliff, though, kept the Spartans in the game. He scored eight first-quarter points, on the strength of a pair of 3-pointers, and his pull-up 3-ball in transition with 4:49 left before halftime gave the Spartans a 22-20 lead that they never again relinquished. Woodliff went into the halftime locker room with 14 points, but he ended the game with the same total after suffering an ankle injury late in the second quarter.
“He played a fabulous first half and would have had a terrific whole game,” said Justice. “But he played the second half on a 75-percent ankle.”
The key stretch of the game came just after Woodliff knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer and Watson picked up a couple of points from the line.
With the Spartans up four, senior guard Owen Browning knocked down a big 3-pointer that got the capacity crowd on its feet.
Watson found his first field goal moments later, and Browning’s second 3 gave East a 34-22 advantage. He ended the game with 10 points, a pair of rebounds and a pair of assists off the bench.
“We just play as a team,” said the senior role player. “Whenever one person isn’t hitting, we have to come up with another person, and it happened to be my night tonight. Everybody will have their night, but when Rondale’s hitting, we’ll keep feeding him the ball.
“We don’t think about (who scores the points). We think about winning the game, and whenever I can help, I try to help.”
That’s when Hatcher went into his tirade, which drew a technical and sent East to the foul line for two more. Watson ended the half with a runner in the lane and a 3-point bomb as time expired, and the Spartans took their largest lead of the game, 40-24, into the locker room.
Logan started the third period on a 6-0 run to cut the lead back down to 10, and using an aggressive full-court press late in the game it was able to get as close as seven points in the closing seconds when Andrew Reynolds knocked down a 3-pointer with just seconds on the clock. But it was too late, as East celebrated another win.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Browning of the undefeated start. “The place was packed, and we had to open up the bleachers (behind the basket). Everybody’s on the train, and we’re hoping we can keep it going.”
Watson ended what was probably his worst game of the season with a game-best 19 points and 10 rebounds. He was just 5 of 18 from the field and 1 for 4 from behind the 3-point arc. But he picked up a pair of assists, blocked two shots and recorded a steal to help his team do enough to win.
Senior forward C.J. Williams led the Wildcats with 12 points and five boards.
Logan will host Westside on Friday.
— E-mail: chuffman@
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C.J. Williams 5 1-6 12, Brynden Street 4 0-0 8, T.J. Tomblin 3 0-0 6, Chase Preston 3 1-2 9, Andrew Reynolds 3 1-2 8, Trent Dalton 0 0-0 0, Zakery Miller 1 0-0 3, Zachary Minnick 2 0-0 5, Benny Adkins 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 3-10 53.
Greenbrier East (10-0)
Dereck Weiford 1 4-4 7, Obi Romeo 2 3-6 7, Rondale Watson 5 8-10 19, Bryce Woodliff 4 3-4 14, Evan Ramsey 0 0-0 0, Austin Roop 0 0-0 0, Owen Browning 3 1-4 10, Deante Erskine 0 0-0 0, Tyler Canterbury 0 1-2 1, Josh Zebosky 0 0-0 0, Ryan Lindsey 0 0-0 0, Maurkese Tripplett 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 20-31 60.
L 14 10 15 14 — 53
GE 14 26 11 9 — 60
3-point goals: L: 6 (Preston 2, Williams, Reynolds, Miller, Minnick); GE: 8 (Browning 3, Woodliff 3, Weiford, Watson). Fouled out — L: Street.