OVAC champs

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Ohio’s top-ranked Division III club was no match for Big Red in Saturday’s Wheeling Hospital Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 4A championship game.

Relying on its superior athleticism and defensive pressure, Steubenville built a 20-point halftime lead and grounded previously unbeaten Union Local 63-51 before a standing room only crowd inside the Health and Physical Education Building at Ohio University’s Eastern Campus.

Big Red coach Mike Haney called the victory a “tribute to our seniors.”

“They remember when we left here (the post-game interview room) last year and saw St. Clairsville walk in happy (the Red Devils edged Big Red 62-58 in the title tilt a year ago),” he said. “They worked hard in the summer and the fall and we are the happy ones this year.

“The kids deserve it and our assistant coaches did a great job of getting our team ready.”

Haney’s now 18-3 cagers used an 8-0 first quarter scoring run to take the lead for good. Brandon Herring-Hill accounted for five of the tallies and Adam Sterling added a trifecta. Big Red led 22-10 after one when Dionne Wallace Jones scored off a Sterling assist.

A 9-0 burst midway through the second (capped by a Sterling slam) put Big Red ahead by 20 (36-16). Thanks to a Khaliq Bougard triple, the second-seeded Red was up 42-22 at the break.

During the opening 16 minutes, Big Red forced 12 Jet turnovers, dominated the offensive glass with 11 rebounds (several resulting in easy hoops) and canned 18 of its 35 field goal tries. Union Local, the top seed in Class 4A, knocked down just nine of its 21 first-half shots.

Sterling (14) and Herring-Hill combined for 27 of Big Red’s opening half total. Freshman Charles Reeves added eight (six coming after offensive rebounds). In addition, the winners were whistled for just five first half fouls.

“We talked about getting off to a fast start and I liked the way we started out,” Haney noted. “We made them burn some timeouts early. We like to get up and down the court and the first half was played at our tempo. The key was we didn’t foul.”

To their credit, Ben Porter’s Jets (20-1) battled back during the foul-plagued second half (Big Red was called for five fouls in the opening four minutes of the third stanza). Union Local cut the deficit to 16 (52-36) heading into the fourth. The Jets tallied nine of their 14 third quarter points from the charity stripe.

When Eric Dunfee buried a triple from the wing, Union Local trailed by eight (59-51) with a little more than a minute to play. That marked the first time since the opening period that Big Red failed to hold a double-digit advantage.

Wallace-Jones and Lucas Herrington both swished two free tosses to clinch the victory and give Big Red its first OVAC crown since 2007.

“In the second half, they shot a ton of free throws (the Jets went to the line 16 times compared to 11 for Big Red),” Haney commented. “That slowed the game down. We like to run up and down the court and wear the other team out.”

Porter pointed out he was “happy with how my guys battled back and played in the second half.”

“There is no shame in losing to Steubenville,” Porter added. “They are a very good basketball team. We got ourselves in a big hole in the first half. Early on, we didn’t do a good job of getting the tempo we wanted. In the second half, we got more into our style of basketball and pounded it inside. We were successful but it was a little too late.”

Colton McKivitz, a 6-7 junior, and 6-4 sophomore David Paulick accounted for 15 of U.L.’s 29 second half points.

Big Red’s defense forced 20 Union Local turnovers (14 came via steals). Meanwhile, the winners were guilty of just nine. Steubenville out-rebounded the Jets 31-26.

“We do turn the ball over a little more than I like but that can be attributed to the pace that we like to play,” Haney said. “But, we hope the other team doubles us in turnovers.

“They had size on us but we had guys crashing the boards all day. Charles (Reeves) and Adam (Sterling) both had double-doubles and that definitely helps.”

Sterling took game-scoring honors with 19. He also collected 10 boards. Herring-Hill added 16 and Reeves 10 (he too hauled down 10 rebounds). Herrington and Chris Smith doled out three assists each while Sterling and Smith both recorded four steals. Reeves finished with three blocks.

“We shot the ball well,” Haney added. “We had 132 three-pointers coming in. Sometimes, we shoot from behind the arc a little more than I like. Today, we did a good job of going to the bucket and hitting the three (Big Red had six trifectas).”

When asked about winning the crown, Herring-Hill quickly said “it feels good especially after losing last year.”

“Our game plan was to get a quick start,” he stated. “We did that and got after it pretty well on defense.”

For Smith, being happy during the post-game interview felt “amazing.”

“Defense and running were the keys for us,” he noted. “We wanted to force their guards into turnovers and not let them get the ball inside.”

Sterling’s remarks about the victory were short and sweet.”

“It felt good, that’s all I can say,” the senior commented.

McKivitz paced the Jets in scoring with 16. Paulick finished with nine.

Big Red, which will move up to Class 5A in the OVAC next season, will return to OUE Friday for its Division II sectional opener against Warsaw River View.

“It’s great to go into tournament play on a positive note,” Haney remarked. “We’ll enjoy this win today and Sunday.

“Once we get to Monday, all eyes will be on River view. They’re not worried about us winning the OVAC tournament or not.”