Second quarter propels Highlanders
CHARLESTON -- Huntington High's 72-64 victory over George Washington was not won in the fourth quarter on Thursday.
Instead, it was won in the second quarter.
That's because the Highlanders were able to maintain their lead going into halftime despite leading scorer and rebounder Arick Nicks being sidelined with two fouls for the entire second quarter.
"That was huge. There's no doubt about that," Huntington High coach Ron Hess said. "When he came out, I was talking to my assistant coach. I said we're just going to leave him out there a couple of minutes, we've got to get him back in there. Our kids kept the lead and kind of extended it there at one point, so we never had to put him back in."
Nicks picked up his second foul with 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Highlanders leading 13-7.
Instead of George Washington getting momentum at that point, though, Huntington High got a banked in 3-pointer by Nick Tubbs before the end of the first quarter. The momentum carried into the second period.
With Nicks out, the Highlanders went to a smaller lineup and the quickness proved difficult for George Washington to handle.
The spark for the Highlanders came from sophomore J.R. Howard, who scored nine of his 17 points in the period as Huntington High increased its lead to as many as 15 in the first half.
His back-to-back 3-pointers preceded a driving layup by Tavian Dunn-Martin to give Huntington High a 24-9 lead.
Howard also drew the main defensive assignment of guarding George Washington's Jon Elmore, keeping him at bay in the first half before Elmore's second-half explosion.
In the end, Elmore's 27-point fourth quarter and 31-point second half still weren't enough as Nicks got back into the lineup and avoided further foul trouble to help steady the Highlanders.
And while Huntington High made plenty of plays in the fourth quarter to balance Elmore's production, it was the work done by the Highlanders in the time without Nicks in the lineup that proved to be the game's biggest stretch.
GAME FOR THE AGES: Elmore's 27-point fourth quarter led to him finishing with 40 points, marking just the 16th time since 1959 that a player has scored 40 points in a state tournament game.
It was merely the eighth time in the history of Class AAA that the feat had been accomplished and the first in regulation since Huntington High's O.J. Mayo scored 41 against South Charleston in 2007.
Tolsia's Jacob Copley scored 40 against Magnolia in the 2012 tournament, but that came in an overtime win.
OH, SO CLOSE: Just how close were fans from witnessing the first-ever No. 8 seed upset a No. 1 seed in Class A?
Parkersburg Catholic led top-seed Wheeling Central by four with 27 seconds left in regulation before the Maroon Knights forced overtime with a layup before the buzzer.
The Crusaders then had a three-point lead with 41 seconds left in overtime before a missed free throw and turnovers doomed them in a 59-57 loss to the Maroon Knights.
RESPECT FOR REGION IV?: Both Region IV representatives -- Huntington High and Hurricane -- were ranked in the lower tier of the seeding for the first round, yet both advanced to the Class AAA semifinals with relative ease.
Hurricane, the No. 7 seed, took the lead in the first quarter of its contest against South Charleston and never looked back en route to a 63-47 victory.
Huntington High jumped out to a 10-3 lead on George Washington and never trailed in its 72-64 win over the Patriots.
Those two lower seeds trailed for a grand total of zero minutes and zero seconds in the final three quarters of their first-round matchups.
That comes after last year's tournament in which both teams also participated as the No. 7 seed (Hurricane) and No. 8 seed (Huntington High) before taking the top two seeds to the brink.
Hurricane was in a one-point battle with Woodrow Wilson with three minutes left while Huntington High was tied with top-seed Martinsburg with 3:40 left.
Both teams fell, and Martinsburg went on to defeat Woodrow Wilson for the Class AAA Championship.
WILD, WILD WEST: Notre Dame freshman Jarrod West certainly didn't feel any jitters in his first performance at the Charleston Civic Center.
And the backdrop? Ehhh, it didn't bother him much.
West went a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range while finishing with 28 points to lead Notre Dame to a 63-57 overtime win over Tucker County.
Grant Traylor is a sports reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2759, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.