By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One more college basketball game will be played this season within the borders of Mercer County.
The Concord Mountain Lions nailed down the eighth and final home-court berth for Tuesday night’s first-round games in the West Virginia Conference tournament by virtue of an 82-71 win over Bluefield State in Athens on Saturday.
Pitt-Johnstown (14-12, 10-12 WVIAC) will make the long journey south to play Concord (16-10, 12-10) at the Carter Center at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Three more hoops contests will be scattered across the league. The Bluefield State men (4-22, 4-18) will be at No. 3 seed Alderson-Broaddus (18-8, 15-6) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The women’s playoffs start tonight with 7 p.m. tipoffs. BSC’s Lady Blues (13-12, 11-11) venture to the Eastern Panhandle to play Shepherd (13-13, 12-10). The Lady Lions of Concord (7-21, 6-16) make what may be their final trip to the Seton Hill campus in southern Pennsylvania to play the Griffins (16-12, 13-9).
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Women’s tournament: Bluefield State finished with a winning record for the first time in 16 years as a result of beating Concord 75-55 on Saturday. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and opened new postseason vistas for the Lady Blues.
“Everybody’s zero-zero,” said head coach J.J. Oliver.
Before the final brackets were announced on Saturday afternoon, he said, “Whatever it may be, we feel like we can play with anybody in the conference. We feel like we’re getting back to playing the way we can play.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to compete for a championship — and we really feel like we can win it.”
Bluefield State senior Charlene Diggs said Saturday’s victory “gives us great momentum going into the tournament, great confidence going in. I feel like we can carry this over, and get a first-round win, and go on to Charleston for the first time.”
Diggs scored 20 points on Saturday, making 11 of 12 free throws. Lawanna Gravely came off the bench to make three steals and went coast-to-coast for three transition baskets in the second half.
Shepherd defeated Bluefield State 98-65 on Jan. 26 in Bluefield. Gravely was the top BSC scorer with 13 points and Shae Mebane had four blocked shots. Shepherd got 27 points and eight assists from Rachel Johnson.
The Lady Blues are averaging 72 points, 42.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game, but make 19 turnovers on average. The Rams score 74 points, grab 40.5 rebounds and give up the ball 19.1 times on average. Shady Spring grad Emily Daniel averages 14.3 points per game for Shepherd.
The winner of tonight’s game plays at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Charleston against No. 2 West Liberty or No. 15 Ohio Valley.
Concord head coach Kenny Osborne noted that his team had a 28-point lead on the road at Seton Hill, and took an 85-70 win on Jan. 26.
“It’s one of those places where we’ve won, and I hope that carries over,” he said. “We’ve just got to get some rest (Saturday), and prepare (Sunday), and go.”
Amanda Smith had a game-high 20 points in the previous Concord-Seton Hill game, while Rachel Artrip had 19. Jacqueline Kestner contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Smith, who averages 13.7 points per contest, was unable to play Saturday because of a hamstring injury, and Osborne termed her chances of playing on Monday as “day-to-day.”
An injury-riddled Concord team has been outscored 75-68 on average this season. The Lady Lions haul in 37 rebounds and 8.2 steals per game, and make onlly 13.6 turnovers per contest.
Seton Hill’s Katie Gattuso averages 17.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. The Griffins have averaged 68.8 points per outing and give up 66.9 points per game.
Concord has lost seven of its past eight games.
Tonight’s winner will be in Charleston at 1 p.m. Wednesday to play either No. 4 Davis & Elkins or No. 13 Alderson-Broaddus.
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Men’s tournament: The Concord men have won five of their last six games, the only loss being an overtime 80-73 setback at Glenville State.
Concord senior Gentry Shrewsbury said, “This team’s really bonded together. We’re not the most talented team in the conference, but not many teams work harder than us. That’s what I like about this team.”
He said about Pitt-Johnstown, “It’s good that they have to travel down here. ... They’re a really good offensive team.” Noting their 51.3 percent field-goal accuracy, he said, “We have to be ready to play defense.”
The Mountain Lions have put up 73 points per game this season, while UPJ scores 81.7 on average.
Shrewsbury, a standout at Wyoming East, said, “They run a lot of sets. They have a really, really good point guard (Nick Novak), a player of the year candidate, so we have to try to stop him.”
Novak fills up the UPJ stat sheet, with a 22.3-point-per-game average, 151 assists, 59 steals and 83 rebounds. He has made 55 percent of his field goal tries this season.
Concord senior Damien Tunstalle averages 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per outing. Mike Boyd has dished 113 assists. Thomas Brown leads the team with 32 steals.
Tunstalle, who had 17 points on Saturday, is a mere five points away from reaching 1,000 in his college career, but the former Woodrow Wilson star said it won’t dominate his thoughts on Tuesday.
“They tell you you’re close to 1,000, but if you don’t think about it, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “As long as we win on the scoreboard — the thousand points will come.”
Concord met UPJ once this season, winning 86-76 on Nov. 17.
The Big Blues, who have won two of their last five games, have a road trip to play Alderson-Broaddus, who beat them twice this season by close scores, 70-67 and 73-68.
The Battlers score 75.9 points per contest, led by Kurklin Bohanon’s 17.8 points per game. Bluefield State averages 70.7 points and allows 81.7.
Roy Cooper has the top scoring average on the BSC team, 14.3 points per outing. Vincent Rogers averages 12.7 per game and has blocked 12 shots. Treon Claiborne averages 10 points and 6.7 rebounds and has a team-high 58 assists.
Bluefield State head coach Jamaal Jackson said, “We’ll be ready. I don’t think that’ll be a problem. We’ll prepare ... but they’ve got to do it on the court. They’ve got to put it out there.”
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com