By JONATHAN GREENE for the Daily Telegraph
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Since their loss to West Virginia Wesleyan earlier this year, Concord’s season has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs with five wins and five loses.
With four games this week, the Mountain Lions were hoping this would be the start of one of those up swings.
After falling into a big hole early, Concord rallied to take a 32-31 lead into the break then held on for a 58-52 conference win on Monday night at the Carter Center.
“All victories are good, especially in February,” Concord head coach Kent McBride said. “It wasn’t pretty for either end. We made plays in the second half and defensively did a good job.
“They went 13 minutes without scoring against that zone. We obviously have things to work on, but a win is a win especially this time of year.”
The Bobcats (8-11, 5-10 WVIAC) raced out to a 14-2 lead after a jumper from Paul Byrd made it 2-all less than a minute in. The Mountain Lions (11-7, 7-7) weren’t deterred as they slowly fought their way back to take a one-point lead into the break.
Wesleyan built a lead early in the second half, but once again, Concord rallied back.
“We couldn’t make a shot,” Wesleyan head coach Patrick Beilein said. “They’re really long in their zone. It felt like watching my old team at WVU playing against Syracuse. They’re long and they play hard.
“That was the difference in the game. They way they flew around it seemed like they had six guys out there. Kent does a great job of getting those kids to play hard.”
The Mountain Lions kept the Bobcats off the scoreboard for over 13 minutes in the second half as both teams struggled shooting the ball.
Noah Cottrill and Caleb Ashley hit back-to-back threes with Cottrill’s coming at 16:23 left in the game. Wesleyan’s next points came off a free throw by Kelsey Williams with 3:14 remaining.
They didn’t make an actual field goal for 15 minutes until a Williams baseline drive.
“I saw that Kelsey Williams was about un-guardable,” McBride said of going to a zone defense. “That was the idea behind it was that we had two early fouls on both are bigs. We really didn’t have a choice. We thought going in that zone would at least limit his touches.
“He’s the best big in the league in my opinion. That was the kind of the idea behind and then they struggled making shots. I’ll say we did a good job getting to shooter. We prepared very little with the zone, but these guys executed it well. They made me look smart.”
The Bobcats hit just 7 of 24 attempts in the final 20 minutes and were held to 32.6 percent shooting for the game. They were 7 of 26 from deep. After scoring 14 points in less than five and a half minutes, Wesleyan scored 38 more points the rest of the game.
“Losing my point guard Ray [Warren] hurt,” Beilein said. “He’s really the only one that can penetrate and make passes so that was a difficult. They did a good job of flying and contesting shots. Our guys thought we had open ones and they were right there.”
The Bobcats won the opening tip then got two points off free throws by Williams. A jumper by Paul Bryd tied the game before Wesleyan open their biggest lead of the game.
Cottrill hit two three’s and Ashley added one as well to make it 17-4 midway through the opening half.
“When you go on the road, as a coach you worried about how the game’s going to start,” Beilein commented. “That was the best start you could have possibly asked for. They did a good job of adjusting.”
Concord switched to a zone and that’s when things started looking up for the Mountain Lions.
They slowly got back into the game thanks to threes by Damien Tunstalle and Eric Bailey plus several good drives from Thomas Brown. Concord took their first lead of the game, 30-29, on a steal and score by Tunstalle at the 1:26 mark.
After two free throws by Wesleyan, the Mountain Lions took advantage of an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and Nick Moyer converted to give them the lead at the break.
“It shows a lot about our character down 14-2,” McBride said. “We came out and we knew what kind of man-to-man they were going to run. We were hesitant to take open shots. A lot of the guys starting the game weren’t aggressive.
“When we made a rotation, we picked it up. Also, defensively we started getting stops and creating easy baskets for ourselves. We had a chance to fold there at 14-2, but we fought back and took the lead at the half. That says a lot about our guys.”
Wesleyan kept fighting just like Concord. The Bobcats took one final lead after Cottrill and Ashley hit back-to-back threes. But they would go cold the rest of the way as the Mountain Lions took the lead and the game.
Brown, Tunstalle and Mike Boyd each had 11 points to pace Concord. Tunstalle added seven boards and three steals. Jordan Davis nearly had a double-double with nine points and eight boards.
Williams led Wesleyan with 17 points and 14 boards. Cottrill added 11 points while Warren and Ashley each had eight.
The Mountain Lions turn right around and welcome Alderson-Broaddus into Athens tonight. Tip-off for the men’s game is set for 7:30 p.m.
“You have to be tough,” McBride said. “Greg Zimmer’s team, their rebound margin is plus seven or eight. They’re leading the conference. He’s done that for 12 years. It’s no different.
“If you win the rebound battle, you have a chance to win. If you don’t, they’re going to dominate you. We had a physical game today and it’s going to be nothing compared to what tomorrow will be. Prepare for tournament play I guess. We’re excited.”