By Rich Stevens
If Morgantown was trying to lull Woodrow Wilson into a false sense of security, it worked beautifully.
If the Mohigans weren’t, it still worked beautifully.
Nicky Solomon matter-of-factly hit a 13-foot floater with 3:58 left to give his team a four-point lead, its largest since the first quarter, and the Mohigans preserved their undefeated record with a 54-50 victory over the Flying Eagles (24-3) in Friday’s Class AAA semifinals of the 2016 boys state high school basketball tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.
Morgantown faces the winner of the Huntington-Parkersburg South game at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday for the Class AAA title.
“That’s a play we ran in 2000,” said Morgantown coach Dave Tallman, who played on Magnolia’s Class AA state title team 16 years ago. “We work on it, we’ve had a lot of leads this year and we don’t play smart basketball all the time. We call that some of our motion. We run it and don’t just want to say don’t score.”
While odd that a score with four minutes left of a four-point result in a state tournament semifinal might have been the play of the game, Woodrow Wilson coach Ron Kidd and forward Nequan Carrington remembered it.
“I felt like once they got a lead, they were just trying to slow us down, trying to put us to sleep,” Carrington said. “When they felt like they caught us sleeping, they were going to try to score.”
That wasn’t the intention of the Mohigans, who are making their 18th state tournament appearance.
Solomon saw a crease and, like so many times this season, the junior took advantage.
“The runner’s been one of my best shots all year,” said Solomon, who had 14 points, four rebounds and two steals. “We move the ball until we get an open shot. Kenzie (Melko) passed it and I found an open lane.”
The lead reached five and Woodrow cut it to one twice in the last 1:34, but couldn’t get over the hump.
The victory put behind Morgantown a precarious 32 minutes that threatened its chance to become the first Class AAA team to go unbeaten since the 1985 Stonewall Jackson Generals.
Woodrow Wilson (24-3), which has 16 titles but none since 2008, hit 3-pointers early and attacked the basket late, staying around through second chances – its M.O. this season.
Woodrow had five more offensive boards than Morgantown, but only two more putbacks. Surprisingly, it also lost the battle of fast break points (12-6) and points in the paint (32-26) – two strengths of the Flying Eagles.
The Flying Eagles didn’t rely heavily on the 3-pointer after hitting 5-of-8 in the first half. Kidd was fine with his team attempting only five in the third and fourth quarters.
However, Kidd would like to have seen his players attack the rim with more vigor.
“Some of our shots wouldn’t fall,” Kidd said. “Like we did the night before, I didn’t think we attacked the way we should have tonight. We weren’t aggressive enough.”
Ty Walton finished with 13 points to lead Woodrow, but missed three 3-point attempts after going 3-of-4 in the first half. Breland Walton had 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench and Nequan Carrington had 10 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Steven Solomon’s 18 points led the way for Morgantown, which plays in the title game for the first time since before the three-class system was implemented in 1959. In 1956, Jerry West led East Bank to a 71-58 decision over the Mohigans in the final of Class A – then the state’s largest class.