By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
How best to attack a bigger team? Make them run.
No one does a better job at that than Bluefield junior point guard Lykel Collier, who has dished out 206 assists in 25 games this season.
“It is going to be a fun match-up,” Collier said. “With the bigger kids and with their size, we are just going to have to run them more. We have to get them in the running game because that is the kind of game we like to do.
“Teams with the bigger kids like to slow the ball down, but we are not really well in the halfcourt set.”
Bluefield will get its running shoes out today when the top-seeded Beavers (22-3) face No. 8 North Marion (16-8) in the Class AA state basketball quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center. Tip-off is slated for 5:30 p.m.
What lies ahead for the Beavers is what has often been the case this season; a bigger team.
“This team that we are playing is much bigger than us,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “They have outstanding shooters and ballhandlers, and they have three or four kids at least in the 6-foot-3 range.”
Actually, more like six, led by 6-foot-6 Cody Opron, who is one of three Huskies scoring in double figures with 12.5 points a game. Add 6-3 Cameron Wilson, who scores 12.5 a contest and 6-2 Matt Cain, who tallies 12.0 on the season, and the Chris Freeman-coached Huskies from Farmington will be a tall task to tame.
“They have a 6-foot-6 kid,” Bluefield junior guard Anthony Eades said, “but we just have to play our game and we will be OK.”
Cain has led North Marion in their recent 3-3 finish to the season, including a 81-78 double overtime win over Webster County in the regional play. All three losses in that span were to tournament teams, Robert C. Byrd, Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior.
Other contributors include 6-1 Chase Banker (9.7 ppg) and 6-1 Cole Richards (6.2 ppg).
“In the last four to six games (Cain) is probably averaging close to 26-to-29 points a game,” Large said. “They are a team, I think they are getting better and better. The win over Webster County in double overtime was huge for them. This is a Class AAA team that has come down to AA.”
If special attention is given to anyone, Yost will volunteer for the duty. The 6-foot-5 junior has been a defensive stopper all season for the Beavers.
“I think so, me or D.J (Edwards). We will probably switch up on him, but I want to guard him.” said Yost, whose right hand was wrapped during practice on Tuesday after tearing skin while diving for a loose ball in the regional win over Wyoming East.
“If (the hand) starts hurting, I will be fine. I will suck it up.”
Meanwhile, Bluefield answers with a team that likes to run, shoot the 3 or bank on Collier working the ball inside and finding an open teammate under the basket.
“They are going to give us some different looks. They like to trap and they like to press, but we are not going to change,” Large said. “When you are 22-3 you have done something right.
“We have pressed all year and we have run all year. We just try to do the best thing that our kids can with their athletic ability and we are a running team.”
Bluefield, whose only losses have come to Class AAA opponents Princeton and Greenbrier East, like to get layups in transition, while three Beavers have combined for 107 3s, led by Eades with 38, 36 from Collier and 33 by Yost. All shoot over 40 percent from long range.
“We shoot the 3 quite often, but there are limits to that,” Large said. “You can be hot or you can also shoot yourself out of a game. If are you on, you are on, if you are not, you have got to back off and look at some other options inside.”
Bluefield is led on offense by its three first-team all-state caliber guards, including 6-3 Eades (19. 3 ppg), 5-11 Collier (13.4 ppg, 8.2 ast) and 6-5 Yost (12.3 ppg, 3.4 reb), who has quietly put together a stellar season of his own.
“I don’t care about attention, if we win that is all that matters to me,” Yost said. “Lykel and Anthony are my best friends, I give them all the credit, it is all our team, it is everybody’s team.
“I just play basketball and it doesn’t matter about scoring or points or anything like that.”
Eades, who had just one field goal in the regional win over Wyoming East, but was a perfect 14 for 14 from the charity stripe, hopes to have a little more freedom against the Huskies. If not, the Beavers have other options that can put the ball in the basket.
“A lot of teams have been playing box-in-one and triangle-in-two and it has been kind of frustrating...,” Eades said. “That is a big thing, we have a lot depth and Yost has been shooting really well and Lykel has been shooting really well. The whole team has stepped up and scored when they have been playing box-in-one on me so that has helped a lot.”
Bluefield is led inside by 6-2 football quarterback D.J. Edwards (10.6 ppg, 6.0 reb) and 6-3 Graham transfer Corey Coppola (7.5 ppg, 5.9 reb), both of whom have improved as the season has reached its climax.
“They have really come along,” Bluefield assistant coach Tony Webster said. “A bunch of our post men were football players and they had to get all that out of them.
“As the season has got going they have really got better. They have been able to finish in the paint and rebound better and do things we are asking them to do.”
It was during a three-game late-season stretch when Coppola was out with an ankle injury that Large saw his reserves play big minutes, including guards Jordan Ponder and Dakota Smalls and the brother duo of 6-5 Matthew Woodrum and David Woodrum.
“Even though we have a solid five, we have developed some strength off the bench which is very important right now,” Large said. “If you get two people in foul trouble early you have got to have someone come in there and step it up and be able to contribute.
“There are lot of teams that don’t have the depth right now that is in this tournament, but I feel like we are one team that does.”
Collier is the quarterback of the Beavers, and he knows just what his squad needs to do to get past the Huskies and play Tolsia or Robert C. Byrd in the semifinals on Friday.
“We will have to start inside and then go outside, we have to pound it inside and get them in foul trouble and get easy shots...,” Collier said. “We have to pressure the other teams’ guards. If we pressure their guards, then they turn the ball over most of the time, that is the main thing we have to do.
“We have to try to get easy turnovers and score in transition and get some points off 50/50 chances and loose balls and take charges.”
They also have to score the ball, something the Beavers struggled with in the spacious Charleston Civic Center in the championship game loss to Tug Valley last season.
The experience of playing at the large Brushfork Armory all season could pay dividends for the Beavers.
“It definitely helps,” said Eades, who is making 89.5 percent from the free throw line. “It was hard for us when we first got (to the Armory) and started shooting so hopefully we will be used to it when we get up there.”
The Beavers will be leaving from Bluefield High School this morning at 9 a.m.
—Contact Brian Woodson