CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With his team leading Huntington, but three of five starters battling foul trouble halfway through the second quarter, Morgantown coach Dave Tallman had a difficult decision to make — stick with the Mohigans’ man-to-man defense or present a different look with a 2-3 zone.
Tallman chose the latter, and it proved an effective strategy for top seed Morgantown, which led for the final 29:07 of its 64-42 victory over the Highlanders in a Class AAAA semifinal at the Charleston Coliseum.
“We were at practice today and one our assistants said let’s work the zone, which we haven’t in a month,” Tallman said. “We spent maybe five minutes on it. We would’ve stayed man were it not for foul trouble, but our guys did a good job of contesting shots and holding them to one shot.”
Rebounding was a big factor for Morgantown (19-1), with the Mohigans holding a 51-29 edge on the boards. Although the Highlanders (12-4) shot 15 of 57, they managed only six offensive boards.
“We out-rebounded them 51-29 and that was our number one key with what we saw last night,” Tallman said.
Huntington’s last lead was 5-3 and the Mohigans limited the Highlanders to one field goal over the final six minutes of the opening quarter to hold a 16-8 lead.
MHS got quality play from its bench to help up its lead to 26-13 just 1:16 before halftime, but Brendon Hoffman scored the final six points of the half, which allowed the Highlanders to trail by just seven.
Huntington would get no closer.
All five Morgantown starters scored in the first five minutes of the third quarter and the Mohigans had 14 points in the paint while making 9-of-19 field goals for the period.
“We spread them out, got paint touches and found open shooters,” Tallman said.
Huntington, meanwhile, continued to struggle offensively and made 3-of-12 field goals to maintain its first-half shooting percentage of 25 percent. The result was Morgantown leading 52-27 entering the fourth quarter.
“We were stagnant and stood around a lot,” Huntington coach Ty Holmes said. “Not much movement, didn’t make very good passes. (Their zone) hurt us on both ends of the floor. A lot of standing around. You can’t do that against a zone. You have to move the ball around.”
After rallying from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat University in the nightcap Thursday, the Highlanders didn’t match their energy level from the previous night.
The Mohigans led by as much as 30 in the fourth, before settling for the 22-point win.
“We were a little fatigued, but that’s not an excuse,” Holmes said. “Morgantown played a very good game.”
Poland had 12 points and seven rebounds, Carson Poffenberger scored 11 and Brooks Gage added 10 points and nine boards.
“I want to step up and do what i can to help my guys out,” Poland said.
Freshman point guard Sha-Ron was solid in a reserve role for the Mohigans. He finished with six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and a pair of steals in 20 minutes.
“Sha-Ron did a great job of creating his own shot and made a lot of plays out there,” Tallman said.
Fellow MHS reserve Cam Rice had eight points and four rebounds, while starting guard Xavier Pryor
The Highlanders, who made 7-of-31 three-pointers, got nine points apiece from Hoffman and Jaylen Motley in the loss.
Morgantown will face the winner of No. 2 George Washington/No. 3 Martinsburg in the inaugural Class AAAA final.
“Coach tells after each win, you get one hour to celebrate with teammates,” Poffenberger said, “and then you flip the page.”