GLEN DANIEL —
Westside had something to prove. Coach Nick Cook’s Renegades suffered a pair of tough losses to rivals Wyoming East and Logan earlier this month, but were beginning to make waves by defeating Man and reigning Class AA champion Tug Valley.
Next on their list? To slay the giant that is Liberty’s Levi Cook.
Early in the game, both teams looked evenly matched. Both teams had 16 points at the end of the first quarter. Both teams had 34 points at the end of the second quarter. Both teams went into halftime needing to make adjustments in order to walk away with a win.
On this night, it was Westside that made the right adjustments and defeated Liberty 77-68.
“We knew we had to get more pressure on the ball,” Nick Cook said. “We had to get more pressure on their guards and not let them walk the ball up and just lob it into (Levi) Cook.”
That’s exactly what the Renegades did.
Just seconds into the third quarter, junior guard Corey Bowles hit a layup. A few seconds later, he managed to steal the ball from Liberty’s Michael Prater and put it in for another bucket. It was the start of what would be a 10-0 run for Westside, and enough to break the game open for the Renegades.
“Well, coach really needed us to play some good defense. We stepped up the intensity and got in our groove,” Bowles said.
“I don’t feel like they did anything really different in the second half,” Liberty coach Aaron Pauley said. “We just didn’t adjust very well. When you get down to a team like that, it’s hard to get back.”
Westside’s full court press made the night tough for Liberty, and made it nearly impossible to feed their 6-foot-10 big man Cook.
“He’s got such a size advantage, one of the keys to beating Liberty is turning it into a full court game,” Nick Cook said.
Putting a body on Levi Cook doesn’t seem to hurt, either.
In a battle of sophomore big men, Westside’s Justin Cogar gave Cook a fit inside, using his quickness and athleticism to jump in front of the big man to intercept and deflect passes thrown his way.
“It’s tough to do,” Cogar said of guarding Cook. “He’s got a big size advantage; he’s a really good player.”
This isn’t the first time Cogar and Cook have mixed it up.
“I’ve been playing against Justin since I was 9,” Levi said with a laugh. “We probably had the best Biddy-Buddy game ever; it went to two overtimes. I fouled out, but we still won. He’s tough. He’s athletic. He’s really competitive. I love playing against him.”
Nick Cook credited the victory to the Renegades getting back to who they are.
“I thought we played really selfish in the first half, to tell you the truth,” he said. “At halftime we kind of talked about why we’ve had some of the success we’ve had the last couple games, and that’s because we’re a team.”
To senior leader Justin Scarlett, they’re more than a team.
“We came in the locker room and talked like a family,” Scarlett said. “We played sloppy in the first half, we got better in the second and got a good sectional win.”
It hasn’t been an easy season for a young Westside team, which suffered tough loses early in the season to Fairmont Senior, Wyoming East and Logan.
“Every game, we’ve had to overcome a lot of diversity with injuries and other things,” Cook said. “We’re starting to hit our stride, starting to get an identity. It’s at the right time. We’re building for the postseason.”
“I think we’re getting better,” Westside junior Levi Lambert said. “We’re putting a little pride aside and letting it be a team effort.”
Westside has a tough road ahead before it gets to the postseason, matching up with former Class AA rival Oak Hill on Friday, and then will compete in next week’s Big Atlantic Classic with fellow Class AA powers Bluefield, Robert C. Byrd and county rival Wyoming East.
“We’ve got three wins in a row now. We’re hoping to build on that,” Cogar said said. “We’re just going to keep playing team basketball — get prepared and play Westside basketball.”
Cogar finished the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Levi Cook had another double-double with 29 points and 11 rebounds.
Liberty visits Class AA No. 7 Webster County on Thursday, then hosts Nicholas County on Friday. Both games tip at 7:30 p.m.
— E-mail: jrollins@
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Larry Cook 0 0-0 0, Will Fox 4 2-4 10, Corey Bowles 6 7-12 19, Hunter Walker 0 1-2 1, Justin Kenneda 0 0-0 0, Levi Lambert 6 3-5 16, Jason Scarlett 4 0-0 8, Justin Cogar 9 3-3 23. Totals: 29 16-26 77.
Austin Lyons 3 3-7 11, Michael Prater 3 3-5 10, Levi Cook 10 9-10 29, Tre McDowell 2 0-0 4, Matt Klucarich 0 0-0 0, Trevor McGhee 6 2-3 14. Totals: 21 17-25 68.
W 16 18 19 22 — 77
L 16 18 11 23 — 68
3-point goals — W: 4 (Lambert, Cogar 3); L: 3 (Lyons 2, Prater). Fouled out — W: Cogar.