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Knights Battling For The Top

The 2009-2010 season for Preston ended in a 13 point loss to Wheeling Park, the eventual Class AAA state runners up.  That Preston team was led by then senior all-state guard T.J. Thompson who averaged 22 points per game. 

This year, while the Knights and head coach Barry Sanders don’t have that dominant scorer in Thompson, what they do have is much more offensive balance and experience overall.

“It’s more of a team,” Sanders said.  “T.J. was our leader last year and the others weren’t quite involved in the offense as much as they should have been.  Now this year they’re all five involved.  All five starters have scored double figures a couple times at least.”

And so far that offensive balance has been ideal for the Knights – an 8-0 start to the season had them ranked number two overall in week one of the state MetroNews Power Index.  The Knights aren’t a deep team, but are full of veteran players as all five starters are seniors. 

“They all care about each other – they don’t care which one succeeds unless they win.  That’s what’s good about these kids,” Sanders said.  “They worked hard in the offseason.”

Overall, three players are averaging double figures for the Knights, led overall by center Shayne Murray who scores 16 points and grabs 10 rebounds per contest.  The Knights try to utilize Murray’s six-foot-six, 205-pound size inside.

“He’s got great feet, great hands and he’s a good shooter.  He has good offensive post moves.  He’s strong – he worked hard at Pro-Performance for three or four months in the offseason, so that’s helped him a lot,” Sanders said.  “I think his best asset is his quickness and his shooting ability as far as in the post.  He can shoot the three – he can take it outside if I wanted to.  I’m just not letting him do that yet.”

Along with Murray on the inside, opponents also have to deal with 6-foot-4, 200-pound forward Colton Goff as well.  He’s averaging around 13 points and 13 rebounds a game for Preston on the year.

“Usually when you have one (big guy inside), they can double you a lot.  But when you have two, they have to double you with a guard and that’s a little harder I think,” Sanders said.  “… As long as you have those two inside, people have to press us and I have great guards so the press hasn’t hurt us yet this year either.”

Speaking of those guards, Cody Thompson also averages double figures for the Knights with 10 points per game.  But perhaps his best overall attribute is on the defensive side of the court.

“Cody’s the fastest kid on the team.  He’s a soccer star, quick hands and great athletic ability.  He’s probably my best defensive player because he knows that’s his forte,” Sanders said.  “Making steals, shooting layups and that kind of stuff is something he does it seems like every game.”

Also included in that starting five for the Knights are guards Clint Wagner and Bronson Contic.  Both players average around seven points per game. 

“Murray and Goff are both big, strong kids. Wagner, Contic and Thompson are all good guards.  So, as long as they don’t get in a lot of foul trouble, we should keep five good players on the floor at the same time,” Sanders said. 

And for the most part, it is that starting five on the court for the Knights.

“I don’t sub much.  I’m here to win ballgames and when we’re playing the Martinsburg’s and Morgantown’s, I keep my five in there most of the time,” Sanders said.  “They’re in great shape, they can go 32 minutes.  There’s times when I’ll sub, but sometimes you can’t afford to.”

Included in the early season schedule for Preston were back-to-back wins over top 10 teams Morgantown and Martinsburg.  The Knights edged Morgantown 56-48 and then two days later handed the Bulldogs a 46-41 loss. 

In that win over Morgantown, Preston’s balanced scoring attack was on display as three Knights finished in double figures.  However, what was possibly more impressive was the Knights’ effort on the defensive end of the floor.

“That’s a great accomplishment I think,” Sanders said.  “We held a couple of teams in the 30’s, and that’s a little bit of our offense, too, because we’re patient.  But the defense has been super so far this year.”

Overall, Preston has a solid combination of offensive balance and defensive toughness, something that will be crucial for the Knights in postseason play – an area that they’ve fallen short in the last couple of seasons.

“That’s what we want to change this year – we want to win the section, win the sectional championship at Preston and then win the regional championship at Preston,” Sanders said.

Which would then give his team an opportunity to possibly play for everyone’s ultimate goal – a state championship.

“They have that chance – we’re strong in the middle, we have good guards,” Sanders said.  “You’ve got to have good players, coaching and you’ve got to have a lot of luck.”

The Knights clearly have the players and coaching to make a run – only time will tell if luck is on their side as well.

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