Few people worked harder for their own birthday present than J.J. Oliver did on Saturday.
The head coach of the Bluefield State College women’s basketball team celebrated his birthday by directing the Lady Blues to a 76-62 win against the Tigers of Salem International University to wrap up the annual Herb Sims Memorial Basketball Tournament with a two-game sweep.
He reluctantly admitted it was his birthday in response to a question, after talking about his team.
“I really feel like we reached our main goal, and that was to get two wins in this tournament,” he said. Then, acknowledging the late director of recreation for the city of Bluefield for many years, he said, “We wanted to represent for Herb Sims.”
Oliver added, “With our record at 5-2 overall, that’s probably the best record we’ve had at this point here in awhile.”
Confusion ensued prior to tipoff. Salem International (1-12) showed up wearing practice jerseys with numbers that in several cases did not match those in the program or the scorebook.
The first half played out at a frenetic pace. Consecutive layups by Salem’s Monique Hill gave the visitors a 6-0 lead after 70 seconds of play. BSC (5-2) scored the next seven points, creating the first of 13 lead changes in the first half.
The Tigers led 24-23 with 4:56 left in the first period, but SIU scored just one field goal, a three by Jessica Laggard, in the rest of the half. Bluefield State’s Tasia Nolan drove strong to the hoop to launch a 10-3 run that ended the half with the Lady Blues’ largest lead to that point, 33-27.
The home team made 11 of 12 foul shots in the first half, while Salem International hit only 6 of 15.
Oliver said, “I thought we started off kind of slow. We didn’t do the job of executing, offensively or defensively, in the first half. ... I thought Salem had the most energy in the first half, beating us to loose balls.”
The Tigers scored the first five points after intermission, closing their scoring gap to 33-32, but were never able to get closer. The Lady Blues held their opponents without a field goal for a stretch exceeding seven minutes.
At the midpoint of the second half, Kelli Morgan’s field-goal try traveled around the rim and fell to give the Lady Blues their first double-digit lead, 54-43.
That was quickly increased via back-to-back steals by Jenaya Abernathy and Charlene Diggs that led to four more points.
Diggs sank both free throws following a technical foul called on the SIU bench with 8:42 left, producing a 62-43 lead.
Salem scored seven straight points in less than a minute to climb back to a 69-60 score with 2:44 remaining, but BSC outscored them 7-2 the rest of the way.
“We ended up taking care of the ball,” Oliver said. “If we start taking care of the ball and taking good shots, we should handle our business. ... We’ve got quality depth — a lot of people who can do a lot of things.”
That comment is borne out by a stat sheet that showed 12 Bluefield State players getting at least one rebound, and 10 Lady Blues who scored.
While no one fouled out, there were 58 fouls called in the sloppy game according to the official book. Salem had 14 steals, part of BSC’s 34 turnovers. The Tigers lost the ball 30 times, but improved on their free-throw shooting in the second period to end 24 for 43.
With 23 points, Diggs easily led all scorers. Shae Mebane added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Charity Harris and Morgan each passed along four assists, and Abernathy had three steals. BSC won the rebounding battle 47 to 36.
For Salem, Inkera Patterson had 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Hill had six steals and 14 points.
The Lady Blues’ last game of the calendar year is Tuesday at home, taking on Alderson-Broaddus College at 5:30 p.m. That will start off a doubleheader, with the men’s teams to follow at about 7:30.
Oliver said, “Now we’ve got to get ready for Tuesday night. It’s a conference game, and it’s an opportunity for us to go into the Christmas break above .500 in the conference.”
Winston-Salem St. 57, WVU-Tech 48
In the other Herb Sims Memorial Classic game on Saturday, the Rams of Winston-Salem State out-rebounded the Lady Bears of WVU-Tech 39 to 28 and forced 24 turnovers to earn a win and also go 2-0 for the weekend.
Somalia McKenney led the Rams in points (15) and rebounds (8) and was among five WSSU players with two steals each. WVU-Tech got 15 points and four assists from Courtney Sturdivant, five steals from Nia Nolan and 11 rebounds from Roche Wimberly.
The Rams led 30-22 at halftime and were 24 for 58 shooting in the game.