By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Game plans are meant to be changed. It worked for Bluefield College, as the Lady Rams won their first Mid-South Conference game of the season with a 73-61 win over Pikeville on a snowy Thursday night at the Dome Gymnasium.
Bluefield (6-5, 1-2) trailed 57-54 with 13:05 left to play, but the Rams went on a 19-4 run to end the game, led by the aggressive inside play of Asia Wheeler, Janee Simmons and Destiny Tolliver, a trio that combined for 26 points, 30 rebounds and eight blocked shots to beat the Bears at their own game.
“Our game plan at halftime was to be more aggressive,” Bluefield College head coach M.J. Baker said. “It wasn’t at the beginning of the game, but I think we forgot about it very quickly.
“Our game plan at halftime was to get more inside presence. We were shooting 3s and they weren’t going in very well. We had to have a little more inside presence and more inside and out, and so the post players were big factors.”
Pikeville (6-8, 1-2), which was led by Calisha Johnson with 22 points and Kandice Porter with 14, led 39-38 after an opening half that featured eight lead changes and four ties. Porter also had nine rebounds.
That lead grew to 49-41 when the Rams came out of the break making just 1 of their first 10 shots. An offensive putback by Cheyenne Madden had the Bears up 57-54, but Bluefield went ahead for good on a drive to the basket by Whitney Smith and a 3 by Smith with 12:00 on the clock.
Pikeville was repeatedly denied inside by the bigger Rams, including Wheeler, who contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Lady Rams, while playing a team-high 35 minutes on the floor.
“She is tough, she is from New York so she is a tough player that plays with a lot of heart,” Baker said. “She goes hard, but then when she goes too hard she gets tired pretty quickly then we kind of have to cover her, but she is a definitely a basketball star.”
The 6-foot-4 Tolliver didn’t score, but the Bluefield High School product blocked three shots, pulled down 10 rebounds and altered numerous shots in doing her best impersonation of former NBA star Dikembe Mutumbo.
“’Sho’ (Tolliver) does a great job of protecting the paint, she is like our Mutumbo,” said Baker, whose nickname for Tolliver is ‘Showtime’. “She protects the paint and gets rebounds and she takes a lot of pride in that.
“It is great to have a player who is not as much into scoring as they are defense.”
Leading the Rams was Teqa McNeal, who finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists and six steals, while playing point guard for the first time during her tenure at Bluefield.
“Teqa actually didn’t play very well the game before Christmas so it was nice to have this confidence going for her,” Baker said. “It has been off and on just because she has played point guard, which is out of position for her.
“Her consistency for points has always been there, but her really taking to the role of point guard has been great to see.”
Simmons added eight points and nine rebounds for the Rams, while Alexis Grant had eight points, three assists and three steals.
Bluefield, which played just four games in December, winning one of them, had hoped to start 2014 with not only a win, but a conference win.
They got both, with a week off before Cumberland visits Bluefield next Thursday.
“That was goal before the game was to get our first conference win,” said Baker, who gave birth to a baby boy, Kalil, seven weeks ago. “We wanted to start the year with a win and now that we are in conference every game is tough.”
— Contact Brian Woodson