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‘A different beast’: James Monroe claims second straight Class A title with 66-35 win over Tucker County

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With a wealth of talent returning from last year’s state championship team, including standout Eli Allen, James Monroe figured to again at least be in the mix for a repeat title in Class A.

Still, a number of variables come into the play throughout the season, and as Mavericks’ head coach Matt Savage put it, “Last year, we were aiming to try and get a title, but defending a title is a different beast.”

Fortunately for Sauvage, so, too, are the Mavericks.

James Monroe outscored Tucker County in all four quarters of Saturday’s state title game, and the Mavericks dominated by shooting 59 percent and out-rebounding a physical opponent in what amounted to a 66-35 victory at the Charleston Coliseum.

“It’s a different mentality. Last year, we want to win a ring. This year, it’s more, we have to defend that championship and so now the target is on your back,” Sauvage said. “You’re going to get the best from every team you play. This group enjoyed having the target on their back and they thrived on that. It’s a different type of pressure and we’ll take that pressure every year. You’d be crazy not to like that pressure, but it’s a different mentality trying to defend as opposed to win your first.”

No. 3 Tucker (20-5) never led, although it was within one point late in the opening quarter until Allen hit a three-pointer in the final seconds.

The top seed Mavericks (then held TCHS scoreless for nearly 3 minutes to start the second period, during which time a basket from Juan Hopkins, triple from Josh Burks and one free throw from Allen created a 19-9 advantage for the first double-digit margin.

“They’re really good. Everybody talks about them scoring, but they really guard you and they locked us down,” Tucker head coach Daniel Helmick said. “We also missed some shots we’ve made all week.”

A Trevan Bonner triple was Tucker’s only field goal for more than 7 minutes to start the second, and after Allen scored 41 seconds before halftime, the Mavericks had their biggest lead to that point at 30-16.

But the Mountain Lions got an Owen Knotts jumper and Bonner’s buzzer-beating layup cut their deficit to 10 at halftime as they remained within striking distance.

Allen had 15 first-half points on nine shots.

“It’s hard for a big guy to step out to the three-point line and guard,” Allen said. “We attacked that. It was not too hard to get around because it’s hard for bigger guys to move in space.”

The Mavericks took complete control early in the second half as Burks scored the first three points of the third quarter on one free throw and a bucket. Ethan Rosenau countered by making two foul shots for Tucker, but Allen’s three and a Cooper Ridgeway stretched the Mavericks’ advantage to 16.

Allen added his fourth and final trey late in the third, and he capped the scoring in the frame with a layup, leaving Tucker trailing 48-28 with 8 minutes remaining.

“He facilitates a lot but we knew that if we could get certain switches, Eli would be able to score a lot of points today,” Sauvage said.

The Mountain Lions never got closer than 19 in the fourth, and after they did, the Mavericks outscored them the rest of the way, 14-2, for the final margin.

(Postgame “Round of Sound”)

“They just locked us down totally. we just never got in any kind of rhythm at all,” Helmick said. “They’re a really nice team and better than what they were when we saw them earlier.”

Allen made one more field goal than TCHS (12-11) and led all players with 29 points in his final high school game. He made all four of his three-point attempts and missed only four shots.

“One of the big things this offseason was he wanted to improve his outside shot. Throughout the season, he was able to do that,” Sauvage said.

Allen’s 74 points in three state tournament games were 21 more than the next highest player, which was Bonner. He made 32-of-48 field goals in Charleston.

Burks added 13 points on six shots, while first-year player Juan Hopkins contributed eight points and seven boards.

“As the season went on, I learned a lot more,” Hopkins said.

(MetroNews Broadcast Highlights)

Collin Fox contributed four steals and finished the state tournament with 20.

Bonner’s 14 points led the Mountain Lions. Outside of his efforts, Tucker made only 6-of-26 shots.

Garett Wilfong scored 11 and made all four of his field goals in defeat.

“There’s no good feeling about losing and we didn’t play our very best, but it feels good to get here and compete,” Mountain Lions’ senior starter Levi Bennett said.

The Mavericks finished with a 28-21 rebounding edge against a team with no shortage of size that prides itself on physicality.

“That was one of the things we wrote on the board and we talked about last night was to win the rebounding battle and don’t let them out physical us,” Sauvage said. “Sometimes Tucker likes to play bully ball, which is not a bad thing. We decided to front them in the post and have help on the back side and that switch early on helped a lot in the post.”

The Mavericks won each of their six state tournament games over the last two seasons by at least 20 points.

(James Monroe postgame press conference)

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