By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A bunch of Bearcats from Lander University invaded the Ned Shott Gymnasium and clawed their way past the Bluefield State College Big Blues in the nightcap of the Currence Classic, 76-62, Friday night.
“Our effort and fight was there tonight but we made a lot of mental mistakes and their zone had us rattled,” said BSC head coach Jamaal Jackson.
Bluefield State’s only lead of the game came at 1-0 when Davin Morris hit one of two free throws. Lander than went on a 23-7 run and grabbed an early 15 point lead.
State came methodically came back. Vincent Rogers’ bucket brought the Blues back to within 10 at 25-15 and moments later Simeon Denny dropped in a trey to pull BSC to within single digits.
A scrappy defense that forced Lander turnovers and tough BSC rebounding kept the Big Blues in the game and Gary Martin’s free throw with 1:03 to play before half closed the gap to eight, 35-27. Lander carried a 35-27 lead into the intermission.
Bluefield State’s defense came out strong to open the second half, creating a stop and forcing a turnover on Lander’s first two possessions of the half, but the Bearcats growled and began running the court like a bear in the woods going for honey. A three by Jareal Smith at the 14 minute mark gave the Bearcats a 54-33 lead. State did get as close as 14 on another three by Denny, and late in the game on a three by Ryan Braxton, but could get no closer.
The contest was a physical affair with 39 fouls called between the two teams. Bluefield State, despite being a smaller team, out-rebounded Lander 40-32.
“It (out-rebounding Lander) was a great sign,” Jackson said. “We fought, we rebounded by committee. I’m getting on my big guys, we need more rebounding from them. Avery Holliday, a freshman guard, 6’1” led us in rebounding with eight in 19 minutes. I’m still getting on my bigs, they need to get us on the glass more than they are.”
Gary Martin had six rebounds, while Daven Morris and Rogers each snagged five boards.
Corey Wright led Lander and all scorers with 22 points. David Pruett, who entered the game averaging 27 per game, was held to 13. Jareal Smith and Dermaine Smith each scored 12.
“Corey Wright was just an animal tonight,” Jackson said. “I told the guys if we could silence Pruett and Wright, make Jareal Smith the hero for them, we would win the game. We silenced Pruett, but weren’t able to silence Wright.”
Jackson attributes the silencing of Pruett to the defensive prowess of Morris who held Pruett to four points in the first half.
“Our best defender (Morris) we had on Pruett all night, but we ended up putting him on Wright, but by that time it was too late,” Jackson said.
Denny topped the Bluefield State scoring column with 13 points, including four three point baskets, off the bench. Martin tallied 12, Johnny Uhegwu 11 and Rogers 10.
Lander head coach Jeff Burkhamer, a graduate of Alderson-Broaddus brought his team into a place he played years ago.
“It was a typical West Virginia Conference environment, playing in a smaller gym with a boisterous crowd,” Burkhamer said. “That was great for our players to play in.
“I thought the game settled down a little bit in the second half, more to the pace we play at, rather than their pace. We were able to make a couple of adjustments on our defense and that opened the game up a little bit.
“We knew we’d have to come in and fight. To their (BSC) credit, they played for 40 minutes and to our guys credit we did a good job of executing when we had to.”
Bluefield State plays Chowan in the final game of the Currence Classic tonight at 6:00. Lander takes on WVU Tech in today’s first game at 4 p.m.