WEIRTON - St. Marys coach Mark Barnhart went into Saturday night's game with Madonna at the Dube Dome with a plan to apply full court pressure and his team executed to near perfection as the Blue Devils spoiled the Blue Don's home opener 71-55.
The out of sync play of the Blue Dons, especially in the first half could be attributed to six of the players not having their basketball legs because they played for the state football championship just two weeks ago as well as the St. Marys defense.
Madonna never led in the game. However, Blue Don interim coach, Mike Hagg, made some adjustments at halftime that paid off with a Blue Don run that got them within three points of the Blue Devils with two minutes gone in the fourth quarter. But the Blue Devils fought off the rally hitting some key field goals and making 7 of 9 foul shots down the stretch to pull away.
UP FOR TWO — Madonna’s Nate Guio goes up for two points during the second quarter of Saturday’s 71-55 home-opening loss to St. Marys, which finished as the West Virginia Class A runner-up last season.
"What we were hoping to establish was the full court defense," said Barnhart, whose team was winning its second game in as many starts. "We know they are big and if we're stuck in a half court defense with them we would have some mountains to climb.
"We were hoping that with the full court defense we could push the ball opportunistically. We thought if that happened it might help to equalize it a little bit. And in all honesty and fairness to them, some of their kids have only been at this for two weeks. We were hoping we could force the tempo and make it hard for them because we knew they'd make it hard for us around the bucket."
The strategy paid off.
St. Marys 71, Madonna 55
St. Marys 11 24 19 17 - 71
Madonna 8 17 20 10 - 55
ST. MARYS: Cosper 5 11-13 21, Hupp 2 2-2 8, Bayless 4 2-5 10, Bills 1 0-0 2, Moore 2 0-0 4, Whitehair 5 0-0 11, Brode 2 0-0 5, Lancaster 2 6-7 10. Totals: 23 21-27 71. Three-pointers: Hupp (2), Whitehair and Brode 1 each; Rebounds: 28 (Whitehair, 12); Turnovers 11.
MADONNA: Guio 6 0-0 12, Jeter 3 0-0 6, Ewusiak 2 0-0 4, Retton 1 0-0 2, Bowser 7 0-2 15, Shereve 2 0-0 6, Carnes 2 0-4 4, Stakias 0 2-2 2, Marin 2 0-1 4. Totals: 25 2-9 55. Three-pointers: Shreve (2), Bowser (1); Rebounds: 30 (Carnes, 9); Turnovers 13.
Even though Madonna outgunned St. Marys from the floor sinking 25 field goals to 23, the Blue Devils were solid at the foul line making 21 of 27 compared to just two of nine for the Blue Dons. And despite the size disadvantage, the Blue Devils only lost the battle of the boards by two, 30-28.
"Several times we got their lead down to the five or seven point area, but we had mental breakdowns on defense," said Mike Hagg, who is filling in for suspended head coach George Vargo. "We also kind of wore down since we don't have our basketball legs about us yet.
"Our guys played hard and gave everything they had and did everything we asked them to do. You look at the scoreboard and see it was a 16-point game, but it wasn't that way because late in the game we had to shoot some threes to try to get back and we had to foul. Unfortunately, they made those foul shots going down the stretch, which is to their credit.
"At this point in the season, we have young guards and we're looking for chemistry. We're looking for pieces of the puzzle that will make things flow more easily. When that's not there, our offense is out of sync."
After leading by 10 at the half, 35-25, the Blue Devils expanded the lead to 14 at 54-40 late in the third period, but a three from Levi Shreve and a layup by Marquis Jeter pulled the Blue Dons back inside of double digits at 54-45 going into the fourth quarter.
A field goal by James Carnes sandwiched between two from Wil Bowser to open the fourth narrowed the lead to three points at 54-51, but the Blue Devils quickly seized control again with two straight field goals by Jordan Whitehair and a free throw from Andrew Cosper.
Cosper burned the net for a game high 21 points including 11 of 13 from the foul line. The senior took control of the game in the final five minutes controlling the basketball in the offensive zone and making 7 of 8 free throws.
"Cosper stepped up big. He was never out," said Barnhart. "And I'll tell you another thing, he worked very hard during the off season for both football and basketball for moments like this."
Cosper was a member of the Blue Devil football team that lost to the Blue Dons in the football quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils had three other players in double figures. Whitehair checked in with a double-double scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Austin Bayless and sophomore center, Connor Lancaster, each scored 10 points.
Bowser and Nate Guio were the only two Blue Dons in double figures with 15 and 12 points respectively.
Madonna travels to Shadyside for its next game on Tuesday while St. Marys will have its home opener next Tuesday against Tyler Consolidated.