Maybe it was the pink uniforms. More likely it was a tenacious defense.
Whatever the underlying cause, the Bluefield State College women’s basketball team turned back West Virginia Wesleyan 79-73 on Saturday afternoon, pulling out of a five-game losing streak.
The Lady Blues (11-9, 9-8 WVIAC) wore pink outfits in the Ned Shott Gym, which was decorated with pink balloons and a “Play 4 Kay” banner on a day recognizing the fight against cancer awareness in memory of late basketball coach Kay Yow.
Point guard Charity Harris, who led Bluefield State with 19 points and seven assists, said, “We just wanted to win. We knew we could do it at home. The pink jerseys brought us some energy, a little bit.”
“We played really hard. We played good on D. ... If we play our defense good, it just feeds our offense and we play better offense.”
Harris said about her assists, “You’ve got to get everybody involved, that’s how I feel. Everybody has to contribute to the win. I try to give everybody the ball, so they can score.”
West Virginia Wesleyan (7-13, 6-11) got in front at the start of the game, but the smaller Lady Blues forced 11 turnovers and battled for rebounds to limit the Bobcats to six one-and-done forays on offense in the first 12 minutes of play.
The home squad took its first lead, 22-20, on a pair of free throws by Harris. Moments later, Dragana Tomic scrapped for a loose ball in the defensive paint, and as she dribbled it upcourt, BSC head coach J.J. Oliver slashed a fist through the air in excitement.
“I think, as a unit, we played pretty good defense,” Oliver said. “We had some spurts here and there. In basketball, you’re going to have some spurts. That’s why it’s very important, when we have our momentum, when we have our motivation, that we take care of business.”
“That’s a well-coached (Wesleyan) team over there. They didn’t give up, they kept fighting. The mark of a championship team, teams that want to win, are teams who stave off some of those runs.”
“We’ve got a great group of young ladies who ... when we do what we are supposed to do, we are a member of this league that can stand up with the best of them, man.”
A 12-6 Wesleyan run late in the half turned a 28-22 Bluefield State lead into a tie, and Allie Browne’s three from the top of the key at the buzzer gave the visitors a 37-34 halftime edge.
The Lady Blues went on their own 15-to-4 run to start the second half. Harris tossed assists for layups on three straight possessions. On another, she faked a pass in the paint and deftly slipped by a defender for a layup of her own.
Her three-pointer with 12:41 left boosted the BSC lead to 54-45.
About Harris, Oliver said, “She didn’t start the game for us today, and I think that kind of gave her a wake-up call. I think our freshman (Ashley Reid) did a good job of handling the basketball and running our team.”
“But Charity Harris ... she makes that team go, and if we get her back to doing the things that she can do, you’ll see this team have a turnaround.”
He said the team members “accepted the challenge” of seeing others start a game. “That lets me know we’re on the way to where we need to be.”
The Bobcats had another run left in them, fueled by nine consecutive points from Atavia Blake, to cut the Bluefield State lead to 70-68.
Three times in the final three minutes, the margin became a single point, but BSC answered each time. With 24.6 seconds left, Charlene Diggs took a throw-in and drained a trey from the right side of the court to turn a 74-73 game into a four-point lead.
Asked about the Lady Blues’ effort against bigger opponents, Oliver said, “One of the things that we always teach our players that it’s not how big (they are), it’s how much heart you’ve got.”
“We just did a good job of staying low. The second half, they kind of beat us up a little bit on the boards, but we battled. We were able to answer all those bells, and I thought our young ladies did a good job of stepping up when we needed it.”
One of those who battled was LaWanna Gravely, who wound up with a cut above her eyebrow after butting heads with Wesleyan’s Danesha Richardson in the first half.
Gravely said, “I had a big gash here, and it was leaking all in my face and my eyes.”
Temporarily, the wound was closed with a pinching device known as a butterfly, and covered with a bandage. She had to change her blood-spattered jersey and uniform pants.
“The trainer told me that I should leave during the game (for stitches) and come back, but I said no, I wanted to play to help my teammates out,” she said.
Gravely contributed six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals. Diggs had 14 points, and Shae Mebane notched nine points and nine rebounds.
“Everybody played together,” Gravely said. “Everybody shared the ball (and) communicated, talked on defense. Defense was the key.”
West Virginia Wesleyan had 48 rebounds to Bluefield State’s 34. The Bobcats were 24 of 27 from the foul line; BSC was 18 of 21.
Blake recorded 24 points and 13 rebounds for Wesleyan, making 12 of 13 free throws. Brittany Maxey had 13 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, four assists and three blocks. Richardson had 11 rebounds and three assists.
Oliver discounted Bluefield State’s now-broken losing streak.
“We approach it game by game,” he said. “We didn’t see five losses. We saw the last one. We wanted to see what we did in that game, to see what we need to do to get better, and I think we did that.”
The Lady Blues host Ohio Valley University on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
Oliver said, “We’ve got a quick turnaround on Monday night against an OVU team that has great size and is playing very hard. So we’ve got to make sure that we take care of business on our home floor.”
Harris was already looking ahead to the end of the regular season and to the WVIAC tournament beyond.
“We’re going to finish it strong, we’re going to go to that tournament, and play our heart out!” she said.
Men's game: W.Va. Wesleyan 75, Bluefield State 60
It’s hard to dig out of a 17-point halftime hole.
The Bluefield State Big Blues gave it quite a shot in the second half on Saturday at the Ned Shott Gym, holding the West Virginia Wesleyan scoreless for almost 10 minutes, but eventually took a 75-60 loss, their third in a row.
The visiting Bobcats scored four unanswered three-pointers early to lead 26-8.
“This is a tough place to play,” said West Virginia Wesleyan coach Patrick Beilein, “so we were very fortunate to come in here and get off to a great start.”
Bluefield State head coach Jamaal Jackson said, “We were unable to locate the shooters, and they were hot. ... We really dug ourselves a hole at halftime.”
Caleb Ashley was 6 for 6 in the first 20 minutes, connecting on all four of his shots from three-point range. He finished the day 8 of 9 from the field.
“We came out with fire, pretty much,” Ashley said. “We had a tough couple of games, coming in, so we just told ourselves, ‘Come out, have poise. We’re on the road. Come out relaxed, and have fun.’ That’s what we did.
“My teammates got me open for shots, so I give all the credit to them.”
The halftime margin could have been worse, but Wesleyan (9-12, 6-11 WVIAC) went 0 for 5 in the final four minutes of the period and Bluefield State (2-19, 2-15) scored the last 11 points — including six by Remar Brothers off the bench — to trail 50-33.
The Big Blues definitely missed having senior Vincent Rogers in the post. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward has been out since Jan. 21.
“With Rogers out,” Jackson said, “we’ve turned into a three-point-shooting team. If we can’t hit threes, we’re basically dead. And tonight, we couldn’t hit them.”
“Put that on top of not being able to locate the shooters, and then they shot lights out. They shot 65 percent (11 for 17 from three-point range) for the night.”
The second half opened with Bluefield State going 1 for 7 from the field and Wesleyan making 4 of 6 shots. Kelsey Williams’ long jump-shot gave the Bobcats a 25-point edge, 63-38, with five minutes gone in the half.
Their next scores came on a pair of free throws by Williams with 5:15 remaining, after the Big Blues had scored 15 straight points to narrow the spread to 63-53.
Beilein, a former WVU player for his father John Beilein, said, “We were missing some easy layups there underneath and they (Bluefield State players) are long and they’re athletic ... and they did a good job of turning up the defense.”
“It was a difficult stretch there, but we held it together. We’ve come a long way. That’s happened in the past, and we’ve learned from it, how to hold it together mentally.”
Jackson said, “We talked about pushing the ball for 40 minutes. We knew they weren’t a deep team, so we talked about pushing it, but for whatever reason, we didn’t. Once we started pushing the ball, and locked down defensively, we were able to cut into their lead.
“But it was too little, too late. This game is 40 minutes, not five or 10 minutes.”
Bluefield State was 1 for 5 in field goal tries in the final two minutes and Wesleyan built its final margin.
Ashley said, “They made a run. We had a couple of timeouts, where we told the guys, ‘Keep your poise. We’re on the road. It’s going to get loud. They’re going to make a run. What are we going to do to fight back? Keep our poise.’ And that’s what we did.”
The Big Blues made a third of their attempts in the game (23 for 69) and went 5 for 29 in three-point tries.
Jackson said, “Even if we’re shooting that bad, we got within 10, that was the closest we got. We just couldn’t knock ’em down.”
He noted that freshman Avery Holliday’s effectiveness was limited by foul trouble.
The coach said, “He got some early fouls. He got two or three fouls I didn’t even agree with at all, so that hurt us. They had four team fouls in the entire second half.”
Ashley, who Beilein said was coming off a severe ankle injury, had 22 points and dished out four of Wesleyan’s 19 assists.
Beilein said, “I think he’s just starting to get his stride back, and a feel for the game. If he makes his first one, there’s a good chance that he’s going to make a lot in the game.”
Williams notched 20 points and 13 rebounds. Wesleyan canned half their field goal tries (28 of 56).
Brothers led Bluefield State with 15 points and Treon Claiborne had 13 points. Each had seven rebounds, while Steven Pierre led BSC rebounders with nine.
Bluefield State hosts Ohio Valley on Monday evening.
Jackson said, “We have a team goal for these final 10 games. Right now, we’re 2-3. Hopefully, we can reach our goal. But Ohio Valley, who beat us early in the season, they come in here. So we’ve just got to focus on that.”
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com