MASON, W.Va. — Now that’s what clutch is all about.
The Point Pleasant boys basketball team sank 14-of-20 free throws in the final two minutes of Thursday night’s Mason County showdown at Wahama’s Gary Clark Court, allowing the visiting Big Blacks to claim a 80-72 victory over the White Falcons.
The opening stanza featured six lead changes, and Point Pleasant (4-18) — which forced eight turnovers and connected on four trifecats in the opening eight minutes — led 21-17 by the end of the first quarter.
The Big Blacks began the second canto with a 9-3 run, pushing the lead to double digits at 30-20, with five minutes left in the first half.
Wahama (8-14) answered with a 6-0 run to bring the margin back down to four, but a three-pointer by PPHS senior Bradley Gibbs at the 3:07 mark ended the White Falcons’ spurt. Point Pleasant ended the first half with a 6-to-3 run and a 39-29 lead.
The guests scored six of the first eight points to start the second half, making the lead 45-31 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter. However, PPHS was scoreless over the three minutes, as Wahama scored 14 points and tied the game at 45 with a Ryan Thomas three-pointer. The White Falcons failed to regain the lead, however, as the Big Blacks responded with a 9-3 run over the remainder of the third quarter.
“I thought we just came out and played with more energy at the beginning of the second half,” third-year Wahama head coach Ron Bradley said. “We made a good run there and tied the game up. I don’t know if we expended too much energy there, but Point came back and countered with a nice run of their own.”
Point Pleasant kept the momentum through the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, starting the period with a 10-0 run that made the margin 64-48 with 4:27 left in regulation. Wahama never pulled closer than seven points in the over the remainder of the game and Point Pleasant capped off the 80-72 win by making 18-of-24 fourth quarter free throws attempts.
“We knew coming in that it wasn’t going to be easy,” fourth-year PPHS head coach Josh Williams said. “Wahama wasn’t going to quit, that’s not their build. It’s inner-county so you can throw out the records, we knew we were going to be in for a dog fight. They are very well coached and they have some players.”
Despite a noticeable height disadvantage, Wahama outrebounded its guest 33-to-31, with both teams pulling in 11 offensive boards.
“We work on block out drills everyday,” Bradley said. “I always tell the kids ‘no rebounds, no wins’. We’re not very deep, the kids are playing a lot of minutes and it takes it’s toll after a while. (Point Pleasant) was able to run several kids in and out of there.”
Point Pleasant committed 11 turnovers in the win, eight fewer than the hosts did, while the Big Blacks held an 11-to-4 advantage in steals and a 5-to-1 advantage in blocked shots. As a team, Wahama dished out 15 assists, six more than PPHS.
“We knew if we could get some pressure it would help us,” Williams said. “Getting pressure helped disrupt the lanes a little bit and we were able to read some of their passes. I felt like we did a good job of rotating guys in to keep them as fresh as we could.”
For the game, PPHS was 21-of-28 (75 percent) from the free throw line and 26-of-58 (44.8 percent) from the field, including 7-of-22 (31.8 percent) from three-point range.
“We haven’t shot free throws very well all year,” Williams said. “I think some of it was getting the right guys to the line and they shot the ball really well. We’ve been working on free throws everyday this past week, so I’m glad it paid off.”
Wahama shot 9-of-20 (45 percent) from the charity stripe and 29-of-57 (50.9 percent) from the field, including 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) from beyond the arc.
“Point Pleasant played a great game and made free throws down the stretch when they had to,” Bradley said. “I give our kids a lot of credit though, they played hard. Point Pleasant also played hard, it was a great atmosphere and there were a lot of people in here. It’s a great game and I think it needs to continue to be played every year. I think the fans got what they paid for tonight, they saw a great basketball game and unfortunately we came out on the wrong end.”
Gibbs led the Big Blacks with 29 points and five rebounds, followed by freshman Cason Payne with 26 points, five rebounds and two assists. Douglas Workman posted 15 points, Trey Tucker added seven points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Parker Rairden finished with three points and two assists in the win.
The Big Blacks were led defensively by Workman with five blocks and four steals, while Tucker added four steals and Payne chipped in with three steals.
Point Pleasant — which has won two of its last three decisions — returns to action in the Class AAA Region 4, Section 1 tournament on Monday at Nitro, where the fifth-seeded Big Blacks will look to upset the fourth-seeded Wildcats.
“We’ll get back and celebrate a little bit tonight, but then we have to get ready for Nitro,” said Williams. “They beat us twice and they present a whole different kind of challenges for us.”
NHS claimed a 82-59 victory over the visiting Big Blacks on January 5, while taking a 65-55 win in Point Pleasant on February 6.
WHS junior Philip Hoffman led the hosts with 25 points and eight rebounds, while Thomas chipped in with 23 points and three assists. Wahama senior Mason Hicks recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go with a game-best four assists. Noah Litchfield scored seven points, Travis Kearns added five points and six rebounds, while Nolan Pierce rounded out the White Falcon offense with two points.
Hicks led the Red and White on defense with two steals and one block, while Thomas came away with a pair of steals.
Wahama — which has fallen in eight of its past nine games — will also begin tournament play next, as the fourth-seeded White Falcons host fifth-seeded Hannan on Tuesday.
“We played them last week, we didn’t play very well and we we’re lucky to escape with a win,” Bradley said of HHS. “It’s a new season now, everybody’s 0-0 and it’s one-and-done. It doesn’t matter what your record is now, if you get hot at the right time you never know what could happen.”
WHS is 1-0 against Hannan this season with a 53-47 win over the Wildcats on February 19, in Mason. Prior to Thursday night’s game, Wahama honored Nolan Pierce, Mason Hicks and Ryan Thomas as part of senior night festivities.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.