By NICK CAMMUSO, Times West Virginian
While most sports cliches are arguably nothing more than something to say when one has little to say, sometimes they ring true.
And that's certainly what took place at the Charleston Civic Center on Saturday afternoon, as defense helped win a boys' state basketball championship for Bluefield.
The Beavers clamped down on Fairmont Senior's star guards, Travon Horton and Jarin Hilson, and held the rest of the Polar Bears in check en route to a hard-nosed 63-43 title game victory.
Horton, averaging nearly 20 points a game on the year, was saddled with foul trouble all afternoon after being hit with personal No. 3 late in the first half. And while he played carefully enough to not foul out, not being able to be aggressive and go full-throttle ensured Fairmont Senior would never hit top speed, either.
In all, Horton finished with a season-low eight points on 2 of 8 shooting and played just 19 minutes. Hilson. who entered states scoring over 17 points and hitting 50 percent of his field goals, was held to a team-best 11 on Saturday.
"We emphasized we could not let them do that like they did yesterday," Bluefield coach Charles "Buster" Large said of Fairmont's 65-58 semifinal win over Bridgeport that saw its offense clicking more than it did on Saturday. "They're too good of a team. We wanted to get a hand up, we had to move on defense and we had to cover the corners."
Looking at their games, there is a lot of the same when it comes to Lykel Collier and Hilson: Speed, quickness, passing ability and the knack of being able to put the ball in the basket.
On Saturday, the two junior point guards faced off, and the matchup was fairly even.
Coller scored 12 points to Hilson's 11. He had seven assists to his counterpart's five. And each hit four field goals in the contest.
The difference? Collier didn't have the added pressure of a sidekick in foul trouble ... and also the final result, as Bluefield won its first state title in 17 years.
It's not the first time the two have been on the court together, as both were teammates in AAU ball for several seasons.
"Ironically, me and him played together for five years so I knew what he was going to do," Hilson said of Collier. "But he dictated the game; he did what he wanted the whole game. Him and Eades. We let Eades get too deep and their whole offense ran through him. I just wish we could have defended them two better."
"It was a big challenge," Collier said. "He's a good ball-handler and a good player, but I just knew going in we were friends on the court. I just had to go out and play against him. He was just another person to guard."
They say every team makes a run in the basketball. On Saturday, however, you could make the case that the Polar Bears never did.
Accustomed to big, game-altering stretches all year, Fairmont Senior hit a wall for much of Saturday's game.
"We would have a little bit of momentum -- a basket, maybe a defensive stop -- and if you look at the game summary, you'll see us having no more than two or three scores in a row," Fairmont Senior coach David Retton said. "It was very difficult for us to overcome that."
About the only thing resembling a run took place in the third period when, down 19, Austin Norman hit a 3-pointer from the left corner and was fouled. He made the ensuring free throw for a four-point play that cut the lead to 44-29 with 3:57 and got the school's Loop Park Loonies roaring louder than they had since the first few minutes.
Norman finished with 10 points, including three 3-pointers, on the day.
"I definitely did," Norman said when asked if he thought the shot could be a momentum-changer. "We were trying to pick up the momentum and try to get it back pretty much the whole game and they fouled me and I thought, 'Maybe this is our start, maybe we're going to get on a little run here.'"
But it was all for naught, as the Beavers closed the third on a 6-2 run and pulled away in the final frame.
One of the tournament's more touching moments might have come in Saturday's waning minutes.
Once Bluefield and Fairmont Senior made the decision to empty its benches, the starters for the Beavers began to celebrate with hugs and high-fives.
But Anthony Eades, moving like he was moving off a screen to take a jumper, did a quick beeline behind the Bluefield bench. There he shared a long embrace with his father, Mike, who was a member of state championship teams at Princeton in 1979 and 1981, and is an NCAA Division I game official.
"My dad has taught me a lot about basketball -- almost everything I know came from him -- so I wanted to hug him and congratulate him as well," the younger Eades said with a smile.
While the balls have been put away and the Civic Center net trimmed down, Bluefield is already in some ways looking ahead to next season.
"Get better and stronger," Collier said of his offseason goals, "because we know it's going to be hard to get back to Charleston with teams are going to be ready for us."
As for the motivation, that's easy: To become the second Bluefield team to go back-to-back, and the first since the 1995 and 1996 squads pulled the feat.
"That's the motivation ... two-peat, just like the 1996 team," he said.
Retton and the Polar Bears also have big goals, especially after the Big 10 conference comprised half (four) of the Class AAA boys' state tournament field in several of the member schools' first year as a double-A program.
"When you lose a championship, I haven't really processed that, but you do feel good about the future of our team," Retton said.
Nick Cammuso is sports editor of The Times West Virginian in Fairmont.