Highlanders doin' the Charleston
HUNTINGTON -- For the first time since 2008, Huntington High's boys basketball team is headed back to Charleston for the West Virginia Boys State Basketball Tournament.
In a game where each team put its best effort forward, the Highlanders depth and versatility proved to be too much in the second half as Huntington High earned a 70-63 win over Nitro in the Class AAA, Region IV co-final at Lucas-Archer Gymnasium.
"Especially for my seniors who came in with me, this is my fourth year and it feels so good that they're getting to go to the state tournament finally," Huntington High coach Ron Hess said. "But also for the whole team, who has worked hard to get there. It was our main goal to get there and now, we have to reset our goals and see what we can do in the state tournament."
The Highlanders' offensive effort picked up in the second half with players stepping up in critical junctures to get the win.
After leading by just two at the break, Huntington High (18-6) built its lead to as many as 14 following a free throw by Arick Nicks, who led the Highlanders with 20 points.
The Nicks' free throw made it 56-42 and it appeared the Highlanders were going to cruise in with a win, but Nitro's Angelo Sirianni took the team on his back and spearheaded an 11-2 run that cut the deficit to 58-53 with under three minutes left.
That's when the game's pivotal sequence occurred.
Huntington High's guards were able to dribble nearly a minute off the clock by crossing up defenders in Nitro's man-to-man defense.
The long possession ended with Shaquan Miller hitting Chancelor Wooding for a back-door layup that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Knowing that Nitro needed to hurry, freshman Tavian Dunn-Martin hid in behind an opponent and jumped out to steal the in-bounds pass, then stepped back and connected on a 3-pointer to push the game back to double-digits.
"I knew they weren't paying attention to me, so I got down low and anticipated the play," Dunn-Martin said. "Once I got it, my plans were to shoot it and I knocked it down."
Dunn-Martin, the talented freshman guard, had struggled through an off-night from the floor before the play, but he stepped up to knock down potentially the game's biggest shot before also going to the line and hitting four free throws in the final minute.
Dunn-Martin scored 11 of his 14 points in the final period for the Highlanders.
"That's what he does," Hess said. "He's a great shooter and he hit some big shots in the end and there's a freshman going to the foul line and making a lot of foul shots down the stretch for us, too."
Hess also praised the complete effort of point guard Nick Tubbs, who not only had to get the Highlanders in their offense, but also drew the task of guarding Sirianni.
Siranni, Nitro's leading scorer, ended the game with 26 points after netting 10 in the fourth quarter, but Tubbs forced Sirianni to knock down tough shots and work for everything he got in the contest.
Tubbs also knocked down 11 of his 13 points in the second half to lead the Highlanders.
"Tubbs played a fantastic game for us tonight -- defensively, attacking the basket well, setting our offenses well," Hess said. "He just played a great all-around game."
Tubbs said the Highlanders came out a little bit nervous on Tuesday night with a large crowd on hand and the pressure of making it to the state tournament for the first time in five years.
The play on the floor showed as each team struggled to get into an offensive rhythm. The Highlanders took a 23-21 lead to the locker room.
"I'm just proud of this team," Tubbs said. "We didn't get it together in the first half, but we played well in the second half. We came out nervous because we haven't seen a student section in so long. Finally, seeing one, we came out a little hyped, so it took us a bit to settle down."
Wooding added 11 points for the Highlanders, who will have to wait to learn of their seeding and who they will play in Charleston on either next Wednesday or Thursday. Three region co-finals were postponed on Tuesday due to inclement weather across the state.
In addition to Sirianni's performance, the Wildcats got 14 points from Tyler Barton while Ethan Clark added 12 in the loss, which ends their season at 11-14.
NITRO 11 10 14 28 -- 63: Sirianni 26, Clark 12, Mawyer 2, Taylor 9, Barton 14
HUNTINGTON HIGH 8 15 20 27 -- 70: Nicks 20, Wooding 11, Demoss 3, Tubbs 13, Miller 8, Dunn-Martin 14, Washington 1