CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Before Thursday’s Class AAAA semifinal at the Charleston Coliseum, top seed Morgantown had not yet faced No. 4 Huntington this season.
Highlanders’ head coach Ty Holmes was well aware the Mohigans have been considered the favorite to repeat throughout much of this season, and much of that reasoning stems from their stellar team defensive play.
That was on display throughout the semifinal, and Morgantown limited the Highlanders to 13 field goals on 30 percent shooting, while forcing 21 turnovers in a convincing 66-41 victory.
“I didn’t have my guys prepared and that’s on me,” Holmes said. “Our guys played hard. I felt I didn’t have them prepared to compete in this game. Morgantown came to play and showed why they’re the defending state champs.
“We could’ve switched up some things defensively. When you watch film, it’s different than seeing a team in person. We could’ve had more ball movement and back cuts, things like that.”
The win moves MHS (25-2) to within one win of repeating as state champion. The Mohigans will face No. 3 Parkersburg South at 10 a.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year’s final.
The Mohigans prevented the Highlanders (20-6) from growing comfortable early and often.
“They executed the game plan to a T, shared the ball and played excellent defense against a team with really good athletes,” MHS head coach Dave Tallman said.
MHS scored 14 unanswered points over a span of 2:57 to turn a 2-2 tie into a 16-2 lead, forcing HHS to play catch-up the rest of the way.
The Mohigans made three three-pointers in the opening quarter, with Izzy Everett responsible for the first and Brody Davis the other two, the latter of which left the Highlanders trailing 19-6.
“They jumped on us quick and we weren’t ready for it,” Holmes said. “We tried to get some timeouts and do some different things. We had to try to fight back the whole game and that’s tough.”
While Huntington picked up its offensive production over the second half of the opening frame, the Mohigans managed to lead 23-12 through 8 minutes.
Davis and teammate Sha-Ron Young opened the second-quarter scoring to make it a 15-point margin, and four straight points from Young with inside 2 minutes to play in the half allowed for MHS to lead 36-15.
“They communicate well and work well as a unit,” Holmes said of the Mohigans. “They have a really good leader in their point guard [Young] and that goes a long way in their point guard. If they’re not doing something they’re supposed to be doing, he jumps on them and that makes a big difference.”
Garrison Kisner and Everett capped the first-half scoring with buckets, sending MHS into halftime with a 42-19 lead.
In addition to making 18-of-37 first-half field goals and holing a 21-14 rebounding advantage, including 10-3 on the offensive end, the Mohigans limited the Highlanders to 35 percent field-goal shooting and held them without a three on six attempts.
“We had 15 steals [for the game] and 10 offensive rebounds at halftime,” Tallman said. “When you can get extra possessions, that’s huge.”
Huntington never got closer than 22 during the third quarter and faced a 56-32 deficit entering the fourth.
The Highlanders got as close as 20 on a conventional three-point play from Gavin Lochow with 5:14 remaining, but never scored again.
“We started out the year in pack line and adjusted,” Davis said, “and we’re getting a lot more deflections and causing a lot of chaos.”
Morgantown made only 1-of-6 shots in the final period, but connected on 8-of-10 foul shots.
Young led all players with 25 points and added nine rebounds and six steals. Davis scored 20 and grabbed nine boards.
“We knew Huntington had athletic guards, but we had a height advantage. Our plan was to dominate the glass,” Davis said.
Mikey Johnson led the Highlanders with 17 points, 11 boards and five steals.
A key to Morgantown’s defensive success was its ability to limit HHS point guard Duane Harris, who finished with four points, no field goals and seven turnovers.
The Highlanders also struggled from the perimeter, making 1-of-15 attempts from long range.
“We’ll guard the guy and two other guys are there waiting to help,” Tallman said. “We work on how to do that and we spend a lot of time on it. We drill helping the helper like crazy. Watching Huntington two nights ago, a lot of people were putting the ball in the basket. Respect to my guys for playing as hard and well as we did on defense.”
The result marked the end of the run for Huntington, which was hoping to follow-up its football championship from December with one on the hardwood as well.
“Although we didn’t win the state championship in basketball, I couldn’t have asked for a better year,” said Lochow, the Highlanders’ quarterback who will move on to Dayton and play football. “We were battling and having a lot of fun. I see a lot of characteristics in this team to our football team. They’ll be back here and ready to go.”
(Morgantown postgame press conference)