By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Concord’s three seniors weren’t about to let their season end without a fight.
Damien Tunstalle, Eric Bailey and Gentry Shrewsbury helped the Mountain Lions make a furious second half comeback, but Pitt-Johnston was able to hold them off 92-82 at the Carter Center on Tuesday.
“UPJ is a good team,” Concord head coach Kent McBride said. “We knew going in their half-court execution is better than anybody. We weren’t ready to defend to start the game.
“They got some open looks and they hit them. Give credit to them and I want to give credit to my guys. We showed our character and we never stopped. We got it down to six, kept fighting, but time ran out on us.”
The Mountain Cats (15-12) rarely missed in the first half as they turned a 3-point Concord (16-11) advantage into a 21-point lead. Pitt-Johnstown took a 48-30 lead into the break before the Mountain Lions cut the deficit to six late in the second half.
“It’s just great. It’s the first time we’ve gone on the road [in the playoffs] since we’ve been in the league,” UPJ head coach Bob Rukavina said. “This is great to come down here and do that. We’re fortunate we got out to that big league.
“We were really hot in the first half. We knew they were coming back. They play so hard. Kent has them playing right to the wire. They kept coming and we were able to fight them off. We made our free throws.”
UPJ hit 66.7 percent of their shots in the first half including going 6-of-9 from deep. Bill Luther went 4-of-5 from three and Jordan Miller added the other two. They combined for 24 points in the opening 20 minutes.
“It’s really frustrating. Not only are they open, but they’re not missing,” McBride said of allowing UPJ open looks. “We knew going in if they get open shots – if Luther and Miller get open shots — they’re going to make them.
“It’s not luck by these guys, because they can shoot. We didn’t come out with the defensive intensity to take away the shots. I’m not going to fault our effort. They executed a little better than we did.”
Concord held a 5-2 lead after a three by Tunstalle with 18:44 showing on the clock. It would be their largest lead of the game. Andrew Cressler and Miller connected on back-to-back baskets to give UPJ the lead.
The Mountains Lions regained the lead, 7-6, one last time on a jumper by Jordan Davis. Cressler followed with a drive and free throw before the teams traded buckets.
The game was tied at 11 before UPJ went on their run behind Luther’s deadly range.
“I thought we did a good job defensively the first half,” Rukavina said of getting the early lead. “Second half, they really drove the ball by us which is their strength. Their guards can really drive and we couldn’t stop them. Luckily we scored a couple key buckets to keep that lead.”
Concord didn’t have a bad first half as they hit 12-of-29 from the floor including four three’s.
They picked it up in the second half while UPJ began to cool.
The Mountain Lions started their rally with a three from Tunstalle and a drive. A bucket by Nick Novak and a Luther fastbreak score stopped the run only momentarily. Tunstalle followed a Davis putback with a three to make it 57-46 with just under 12 minutes left.
“We woke up, started to defend and we were scrappy,” McBride said. “They didn’t get as many open looks. When knew coming into halftime, it wasn’t a real big yell and scream session at halftime.
“We talked and said ‘we’re past the yelling and screaming. If we want to get in the game, we’ve got to get stops. To get stops, you got quit letting them get open shots. It’s pretty simple.’
“They did it. It’s a credit to the guys. They could have easily folded the tent, but we didn’t fold the tent. UPJ knew they played a game tonight.”
Bailey came in off the bench and provided quite the spark. He drilled a three then drove to the basket for an old-fashion three-point play to cut the deficit to eight.
The lead grew back to 14 points before Concord put together one last run.
Tunstalle started with a drive and score then Bailey hit a three. Shrewsbury took a charge which helped set up a score and free throw from Tunstalle. Following a UPJ turnover, Davis hit two free throws making it 72-66 with six minutes left.
“We found our rhythm,” McBride said. “We found a way to get easy baskets through transition. They were probably a little bit reluctant and hesitant trying to slow the game down.
“We caught rhythm. We missed a couple foul shots that we couldn’t afford to miss in crucial times. They capitalized. We some foul shots and they didn’t miss a single one.”
Concord would get no closer than eight points down the stretch as UPJ went a perfect 21-of-21 from the line in the second half. They were an outstanding 23-of-23 for the game.
“I don’t think we missed a free throw tonight,” Rukavina said. “Our center doesn’t make them very much and he made them all. You got to make shots and key shots. We came up with them when we needed it.”
Luther had a game-high 24 points. Miller finished with 20 and Novak added 19 points.
Tunstalle paced Concord with 17 points. Bailey chipped in with 15 points and Davis and Mike Boyd each finished with 14. Thomas Brown had 13 points.
It was the final game for Tunstalle, Bailey and Shrewsbury — all southern West Virginia products.
“You look at what they’ve come from. As freshmen, they had six wins to back-to-back 17 and 16 win seasons,” McBride said of his three seniors. “I can’t thank them enough. I told our players if you ever don’t know how to handle a situation, ask yourself what these three seniors would have done.
“They’ve been great to me and great to the program. When we get to where we want to be, those guys will be a big part of it because, they created a culture of winning.”