By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
The Bluefield Beavers were expected to dominate rather than survive their opening round of the state boys basketball tournament.
On Thursday, the Beavers survived.
Top-ranked Bluefield held off the plucky play of the No. 8 North Marion Huskies to wrap up a 62-51 win in the opening round of the Class AA tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.
Buster Large, head coach of the Beavers, started out his postgame media comments, “It’s great to be back here. We’re very happy to win. But we can play a lot better, and I hope we can do that tomorrow.”
Noting the Beavers’ 20-for-39 free throw performance, Large said that the team will begin addressing that with a lot of shooting practice early today. “I think we’re going to solve that problem tomorrow,” Large said.
Point guard Lykel Collier said, “It was an ugly game. We didn’t play defense very well, we didn’t shoot free throws very well. We didn’t shoot the ball well. But as a team, we are proud to get the win.”
All was not bleak, though. Large said, “They always find a way to win and that’s a sign of a good team.”
That way did not come from behind the 3-point line. After Bluefield went 0 for 5 from long distance in the first half, it tried only one three-point goal the rest of the game.
“Sometimes your shots fall. Sometimes, they do not,” Large said, “but we just feel fortunate that we were able to advance, and I think we’re going to play a little better tomorrow.”
Corey Coppola got Bluefield’s first two baskets, but a pair of threes from North Marion’s Cameron Wilson, combined with a streak of 4-for-6 field goal shooting, spurred the Huskies to their largest lead, 15-11, in the first quarter.
Anthony Eades of Bluefield coolly sank a jumper at the first-quarter buzzer to bring Bluefield within two points of the lead, 15-13.
The Beavers missed their first five floor attempts of the second quarter, and the Huskies grabbed the rebound after the first four. But Coppol’'s putback with 4:48 left in the half gave Bluefield the lead for good — the sixth and last lead change in the game.
Again, it was Eades who got the last basket of the second quarter, falling to the court after uncorking a shot from the baseline with seven seconds on the clock, and giving the Beavers a 29-23 halftime margin.
Bluefield scored the first five points of the second half to extend its lead to double digits. Defensively, the Beavers turned up the pressure; the Huskies had seven turnovers in the third quarter, on their way to 19 for the game.
The Beavers also drove the ball inside, even with North Mario’'s height advantage. Coppola and D.J. Edwards began to rack up touches, and Collier’s persistent drives sent him to the foul line repeatedly, where he was 11 for 21 in the game. The Huskies got only six foul shots and made three.
North Marion climbed back within nine points, 48-39, on a basket by Chase Banker with 4:45 left, and head coach Chris Freeman called time out.
Freeman said, “At about the four-minute mark, we said, “They’re giving us every chance in the world to keep us in this game, because they were missing the front ends of one-and-ones, they were not finishing their free throws.’ Unfortunately, every time they did that, we came down and turned it over.
“We could never just get … enough stops, or enough shots to go in, in the fourth period, to be able to cut into that (lead) and get us really within striking distance to make a run, late.
“Obviously, with their guard play as good as it was, it was tough. Their pacing, their speed and all that stuff was tough to be able to stop.”
Large said, “You’ve got to give North Marion a lot of credit. They were in the game, in the first half and most of the third quarter.
“We didn’t do a very good job of rebounding in the first half, but we limited them to one shot on many occasions in the second half (and) we were just able to step it up on defense.”
Bluefield’s starters scored all the team’s points. Collier tossed in 17, along with nine assists and five of the Beavers’ 12 steals. Eades had 15 points and Coppola and Edwards added 13 each.
Michael Yost did very important work for the Beavers as well, blocking four North Marion shots, stealing two balls, passing along a pair of assists and clearing a team-high 10 rebounds, seven of them off the North Marion goal.
North Marion’s starters included 6-foot-6 Cody Opron and Wilson at 6-3. The Huskies out-rebounded Bluefield 48 to 38, shot 34 percent from the floor and made six three-pointers among their 21 field goals. Opron had 11 points and 11 rebounds, while senior Matt Cain had 16 points and 12 boards.
But the Beavers countered with 39 percent shooting and eight steals in the second half to reach the semifinal round.
Bluefield will play either No. 4 Robert C. Byrd in today’s Class AA semifinal.
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com
NORTH MARION (16-9)
Wilson 5-13 0-0 13, Richards 1-5 1-2 3, Banker 3-15 0-0 6, Opron 5-7 1-2 11, Cain 6-19 1-2 16, Swiger 0-0 0-0 0, Cutrone 0-0 0-0 0, Rogers 1-2 0-0 2, Martin 0-0 0-0 0, Markley 0-1 0-0 0, Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Coulson 0-0 0-0 0, McIntire 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-62 3-6 51.
Edwards 5-9 3-8 13, Eades 5-15 5-8 15, Collier 3-11 11-21 17, Yost 2-8 0-0 4, Coppola 6-10 1-2 13, Ponder 0-1 0-0 0, Woodrum 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 20-39 62.
North Marion 15 8 10 18—52
Bluefield 13 16 13 20—62
3-Point Goals—North Marion 6-23 (Wilson 3-7, Cain 3-11, Banker 0-2, Richards 0-3), Bluefield 0-6 (Eades 0-2, Collier 0-2, Yost 0-2). Fouled Out—Banker, Cain. Rebounds—North Marion 48 (Cain 12), Bluefield 38 (Yost 10). Assists—North Marion 14 (Banker 5), Bluefield 12 (Collier 9). Total Fouls—North Marion 22, Bluefield 10.