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Boys basketball notebook: GW hasn't taken step backward

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There was a question at the start of the season if George Washington would remain among the state's elite teams.

The Patriots, who advanced to the Class AAA championship game each of the past two seasons, returned only one of their top six players - all-state guard and player of the year candidate Luke Eddy - and were primed for a possible letdown, especially playing in the cutthroat Mountain State Athletic Conference.

But GW (13-4) has stayed in the top 10 of the state rankings, riding the efforts of Eddy, who leads the league in scoring at 27.9 points per game.

The Patriots' only losses have come to No. 1 South Charleston, No. 3 Woodrow Wilson, No. 9 Huntington and rival Capital by one point in their opener.

"[The difference now] is we don't have any margin for error,'' said GW coach Rick Greene. "With most teams, if we play and do what we can do, we can be competitive. Sometimes we get into deep teams, the more athletic teams, and we just don't have enough firepower.

"I wouldn't say we're with the elite guys. We're kind of clumped up with everybody else after you go South Charleston, Beckley, Huntington and Martinsburg. No disrespect to anybody else, but those four on a given night are really, really good. All four of those would give us trouble, but maybe we would be competitive with everybody else I've seen at this point.''

Looking out for No. 1

Some teams - and some coaches in particular - shy away from possibly being ranked No. 1 in their class in The Associated Press state poll.

They don't want the extra attention the designation receives from opponents all too eager to knock off the top dog.

South Charleston, however, isn't like most. Coach Vic Herbert doesn't crave the top ranking, but he doesn't hide from it, either. The Black Eagles (16-1) have been No. 1 in AAA the past three weeks.

"I think it's good for the community,'' Herbert said, "and it's good for the school and it's good for our players. A lot of pride is taken in that, and I like it. But that 'X' on our back is made that much bigger because of being No. 1.

"Don't think for a second that people don't know our streak in this league [the MSAC]. We're getting everybody's best shot. Everybody comes to play, and we've got to come to play every single night.''

South Charleston will be gunning for its 40th straight win in an MSAC game when it visits Capital Tuesday.

Some of the Black Eagles players are getting used to being the target at which other teams in AAA are shooting.

"That's a building block,'' said senior guard Rashaud Kincaid. "We know we're everybody's biggest game. We just try to go out and play every game like we're No. 8 or No. 7. It doesn't matter what rank we are. We don't worry about that. We just try to play as hard as we can and get the job done.''

Confidence takes no HIT

Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins was upbeat following Saturday night's buzzer-beater loss to St. Marys in the Division I finals of the West Virginia Hometown Invitational Tournament in Summersville.

Andrew Cosper launched in an off-balance 18-footer as time expired to give the Blue Devils a 63-61 victory in a matchup of top-10 Class A teams.

Elkins, whose team saw a six-game win streak halted, felt like his team would gain confidence and not a hangover from the heartbreaking loss.

"There's going to be no hangover,'' Elkins said with a chuckle. "It's Charleston Catholic coming up on Tuesday. We'll come back to practice Monday ready to play and give it our best shot.''

Elkins noted that the final three rounds of the Division I HIT - an in-season tournament for 16 single-A public schools - mirrored the schedule for the upcoming state tournament.

Buffalo (15-2) beat Richwood on Wednesday, No. 10 Valley on Friday and lost to No. 7 St. Marys (16-3) on Saturday in a back-and-forth game.

"If we make it to the state tournament,'' Elkins said, "it's the same format in Charleston. Single-A games are Wednesday and double-A Thursday. It's something that's preparing you for the end of he season. It gets you ready for the state tournament. St. Marys is about as good a test as you can get.''

St. Marys coach Mark Barnhart was also pleased with the way things turned out regarding the third annual event.

"I think this has been good for us to get to do this in February,'' Barnhart said. "As the season closes down, it's great to get this kind of competition as you near your sectional tournament. And we're in a very good sectional, we believe, and a very tough regional.''

Barnhart and his players were complimentary of Buffalo, a team they normally wouldn't see during the regular season.

"I was really impressed with how fast they are to the basketball,'' Barnhart said. "This, I believe, was a very good Class A basketball game. Charlie's team is very good. I never doubted they were good, and nothing changed my mind tonight.''

Cosper said going against a quality team such as the Bison at this point in the season should help the Blue Devils down the tournament road.

"They are definitely very good,'' Cosper said. "They're very fast and they play an up-tempo game, and that's what we like to do, too.

"I think it's going to help our team. We know we have some things we've got to work on. They got some offensive rebounds on us, and we have to work on that. We have to work on our press break and our zone offense a little bit. It's a good win for us, I think.''

Greg Crist, the former Midland Trail coach who serves as president of the HIT, said Saturday the tournament could expand next season. He's hopeful of adding teams such as Williamstown and Wirt County to the field.

The HIT staged its grand finale again at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center, with two games featuring smaller Division II schools on Friday night and eight on Saturday between the 16 teams in Division I (see results, Page 2B).

Prior to that, the other rounds were held on home courts of the higher-seeded teams.

Last year's final day in Summersville was mostly wiped out by snow. Buffalo won the title over East Hardy in a game held several days later in Elkins.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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