NEW RICHMOND —
Wyoming East played a near-perfect game of basketball for 30 minutes Tuesday night.
The only problem?
There are 32 minutes in a game.
In a battle of Class AA Region 3 powers, No. 3 Bluefield pulled off a stunning comeback, defeating the No. 4 Warriors 72-69, in what was an instant classic for the many fans jam-packed into the Wyoming East gym.
“It was one of the best boys basketball games I’ve ever seen in my life,” longtime Bluefield coach Buster Large said. “It was great both ways. It was outstanding. Both teams — it was an absolutely great high school basketball game.”
With a little over two minutes remaining in the contest, the Beavers trailed East 67-60.
Then, as they’ve done so many times for Bluefield, senior guard duo Lykel Collier and Anthony Eades took over.
The Bluefield duo forced four straight turnovers and converted them for buckets to take a 68-67 lead.
Wyoming East battled back just seconds later when Austin Canada forced Eades to turn the ball over, finding the open Taron Ayers down court to take the lead back at 69-68.
However, the comeback was soon extinguished when Eades raced down the court and put the ball in the hoop, making it 70-69. He hit a pair of free throws in the final three seconds for the final nail in the coffin.
“(Wyoming East) played such an outstanding game, but our kids never quit,” Large said. “We were down seven, and even eight at halftime, but we made some adjustments and were able to come out and find a way to win. That’s what Region 3 is all about!”
The first half was all Warriors — more specifically, the first half was all Ayers, who went into the break with 16 of his 27 points and was 5 for 9 from beyond the arc. He finished with seven 3-pointers.
As a team, the Warriors shot 57 percent from the field in the first half, compared to just 41 percent for the Beavers.
“Theyshot unbelievable in the first half, “Large added. “That’s one of the best shooting performances I’ve ever witnessed.”
Large and the Beavers knew that if they were to come back, it was going to require a better defensive effort.
“We weren’t getting the stops in the first half and we finally got a few of those going in the third quarter,” he said. “The momentum was changing just a little bit, but wow, East is a great team. And we have a great team. I think the fans here tonight got a real treat of what’s getting ready to come up because March Madness starts next week.”
It was an improbable heroic night for Eades, who was nearly absent in the first half, scoring only five points. But the senior guard came alive late in the game and finished with 20.
“(Eades) is a good shooter,” Wyoming East coach Rory Chapman said. “He’s as good as a shooter that has ever shot in this gym.”
Eades went into the half frustrated with his performance but knew something would have to change.
“A lot of teams have been playing a box-and-1 or a triangle-and-2 on me and it’s been getting to me this season,” he said. “I just had to fight through it and I think I did it in the second half.”
It wasn’t just the offensive effort for the Beavers that changed. It was a complete turnaround on defense.
“They told us at halftime that we need to play better defense,” he said. “We went to what we call a junk defense where we double-team the ball and that got us a quick six points. Lykel (Collier) did a great job of getting me the ball.”
Collier was part of a much anticipated battle of two of the state’s top point guards with Ayers. He finished with 15 points.
“It was a fun matchup,” Collier said. “We played AAU together. He hit some tough shots. It’s fun to play against someone who is considered one of the top point guards in West Virginia.”
Even though Ayers scorched the nets for the Warriors, it was his defensive play that left his coach most impressed.
“He does a lot on defense, but tonight he guarded Collier as good we’ve ever had anyone guard Collier,” Chapman said. “That’s a credit to Taron in how far he’s come since he joined the team. He played great defense. He had a complete game.”
Now the Warriors will wait to see if they will match up with either Independence or Summers County in the Region 3, Section 1 semifinals. The Beavers will take on those same Bobcats tonight at the Brushfork Armory.
At Wyoming East High School
Dakoda Smalls 0 0-0 0, D.J. Edwards 9 0-0 18, Anthony Eades 7 5-6 20, Lykel Collier 7 0-0 15, Jordan Ponder 1 0-0 2, Corey Coppola 7 1-2 15, Matthew Woodrum 1 0-1 2, Azir Price 0 0-0 0, Jordan Huckleberry 0 0-0 0. Totals 32 6-9 72.
WYOMING EAST (14-4)
Jacob Dulcie 0 0-0 0, Austin Canada 1 2-2 5, John Morgan 2 0-0 4, Logan Blankenship 0 0-0 0, Christian Hedinger 4 3-7 12, Jordan Hayes 6 1-2 13, David Carte 3 2-2 8, Taron Ayers 11 0-1 27. Totals 28 8-14 69,
Bluefield.....................14 18 18 22 — 72
Wyoming East.......... 21 21 13 14 — 69
3-pointers -- B: 2 (Eades, Collier.) WE: 7 (Ayers 5, Hedinger, Canada.) Fouled out - None.