By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Call this a Beaver beatdown.
For the second straight season, the Bluefield Beavers left no doubt who has the best Class AA boys basketball team in West Virginia, with a 64-39 state championship victory over Robert C. Byrd High School on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Civic Center.
“We had a bunch of doubters coming into our junior year, about how we are overrated and all that,” said Bluefield senior Anthony Eades, whose Beavers lost to Tug Valley 58-52 in the 2012 state championship game. “We proved them wrong. We went back to back, not many people can say that.
“It is a huge accomplishment for me and my team. We worked really hard and we deserve it.”
Bluefield (25-2) dominated from the start. The Beavers jumped out to an 13-0 lead on previously unbeaten and top-ranked Robert C. Byrd (24-1), and continued to apply its patented pressure, forcing 11 turnovers and building the margin to 25-4 after the opening period.
Just like that, the Beavers had made their point, having been seated third despite being defending champions.
“When the seeds came out we felt disrespected,” Bluefield senior Lykel Collier said. “We have only lost one game (here) in the last three years so we felt kind of disrespected. Our goal when we came out was to take whoever was in our way one game at a time and we did that. We just stay focused on the task.”
Bluefield never looked back.
Bluefield won the same title last season by 20 points over Fairmont Senior, meaning the Beavers have won the last two championship games by a combined 45 points.
“It feels amazing. We set our goal our freshman year just to win one so to win two just feels amazing,” said Collier, whose Beavers won its final 18 games in a row. “We never thought this could happen, but when we realized we had all five our returning starters (back) we just knew we had something great.
“We just played hard every game this year. When we lost (two games in early January) it wasn’t a big deal to us because we knew that would get back together and try and come and win this again.”
Eades led the Beavers with 29 points, including 16 in the first half, while Collier narrowly missed a unique triple-double, contributing 11 assists, 11 steals and nine points. Corey Coppola added 12 points, 10 rebounds and two first quarter blocked shots for Bluefield.
Michael Yost, who missed much of this season with a badly sprained ankle, contributed seven points, seven rebounds and his usual shut-down type of defense.
“There is nothing that feels this great, especially your senior year, knowing you are the underdog in the game,” Yost said. “In our heads we knew we were the number one team, we knew they didn’t have a schedule like us, we played some of the top teams.
“We knew if we get up here we will win it. That is what we did, we played Bluefield Beaver basketball and we came out here with a chip on our shoulders and we brought it back to Bluefield.”
Robert C. Byrd, which had been ranked number one most of the season, committed 27 turnovers and shot just 24.3 percent from the field.
The Eagles, which lost to Bluefield in the state semifinals last season, clawed to within 12 in the fourth period, but could never get any closer.
“If you don’t dig that big a hole early then you are able to finish some of those plays we didn’t finish down the stretch,” Robert C. Byrd head coach Bill Bennett said.
“They were giving everything they had, I think they left everything they had out on the floor, that is all you can ask for.”
Devonti Burch led Robert C. Byrd with 14 points, including a trio of 3s, while Justin Noble added 13 points and 11 rebounds in a loss that ended a 24-game win streak.
“It is very difficult to run the table for anyone, it is not something that happens very often,” Bennett said. “We have had a bulls-eye on our back for a long time now, we have been number one since 2014 rang in.
“We talked about that a little bit, it is something to be proud of, but it also doesn’t mean anything. I told them our goal was to be number one today and that was their goal too, but it is something to be proud of to carry that through the season.
"We all knew that Bluefield was the champ until someone proved otherwise.”
That certainly didn’t happen on this day. Bluefield forced three turnovers and made four shots in the opening 2:13 before the Eagles took the first of two first quarter timeouts trailing 8-0.
The Beavers forced 11 first quarter turnovers, and made 11-of-17 shots for the 25-4 lead. Robert C. Byrd started out 0-for-7 from the field before Justin Noble finally got the Eagles on the board with 3:10 on clock.
Bluefield answered by outscoring the Eagles 12-2 from that point to build that 21-point lead.
“I think the success was they couldn’t handle our pressure, we were putting a lot of pressure on them and they probably haven’t seen the pressure we put on them all year,” Collier said. “We knew we had to pressure them and force a lot of turnovers and get easy points.”
Eades was on early, scoring 16 points in the opening half, and finished with 29, making 9-of-22 attempts, and 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
“Pretty big,” said Eades, when asked how big the basket appeared early in the game. “I was running off screens, Lykel would give me the ball, it wasn’t just me. It was a great job by my teammates.”
Coppola was a force early as well, scoring 10 of his 12 points and grabbing seven of his 10 boards before the break.
“It felt good. The guards always step up and have a great game,” Coppola said. “It just felt good to come out and start early.”
Bluefield maintained the pressure throughout the opening half, building a 39-15 lead, allowing the Eagles to get no closer than 18 points before the break.
"Just outstanding teamwork,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “It is very nice to be able to come back and defend your title and come out knowing we accomplished every goal that we intended to.
“I am very proud of these gentlemen sitting beside of me. They did an outstanding job and they played their hearts out today.”
Robert C. Byrd did outscore Bluefield 14-4 in the third quarter, as the Beavers struggled to get on the board, but the big lead meant all that did was allow the Eagles to get within 43-29 going into the final period.
“It was a team effort today,” Collier said. “We started out early with a good jump, but we played sloppy through the third and a little bit of the fourth, but we just knew we had to keep it together to win this championship.”
The Eagles were able to cut the lead to 12, at 49-37, on a field goal and free throw by Noble, with 4:32 to play, but the Beavers scored 15 of the last 17 points, 10 of which came from Eades, to pull away for the convincing state championship victory.
Robert C. Byrd struggled throughout from the field, making just 9-of-37 shot attempts. Bluefield was held to 31.6 percent after the break, but were 46.0 percent for the game, having connected on 54.9 percent in the opening half.
“Even though we did lose, we still went 24-0 in the regular season and the playoffs,” said Robert C. Byrd senior Kevin Steele, whose Eagles also received seven points and six boards from Luke Dyer. “We just had a great ride this season, some people won’t even experience even getting to the state tournament.
“Even though our season is not complete with the loss today, it was still a great ride.”
It was even better for Bluefield, which has now won four state titles in boys basketball, also winning consecutive championships in 1995-96.
These Beavers will never forget what happened on the hardwood over the last two years.
“It has been a great experience. I couldn’t ask for a better team to celebrate with. I love all them guys, we are brothers, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.” said Eades, who said this state title may have been more special than the first one. “It feels a lot better, not a lot of people go back to back like that.
“We had the opportunity to do it and we took advantage of it so it feels great. I couldn’t ask for any other way than to go out like that. It is a great feeling.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org
D.J. Edwards 1-2 0-0 2, Anthony Eades 9-22 9-10 29, Lykel Collier 4-8 1-6 9, Michael Yost 3-10 1-2 7, Corey Coppola 5-6 2-3 12, Dakoda Smalls 0-0 0-0 0, Omar Logan 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Ponder 0-0 1-4 1, Jeremy Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Matthew Woodrum 1-2 2-3 4, Azir Price 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Easley 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Huckleberry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 16-28 64.
ROBERT C. BYRD (24-1)
Kevin Steele 0-4 3-6 3, Devonti Birch 3-10 5-6 14, Luke Dyer 2-7 2-2 7, Cameron Carvelli 1-4 0-0 2, Justin Noble 3-7 7-9 13, Dante Speas 0-0 0-0 0, Ronnie Fox 0-0 0-0 0, Ronald Turner 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Banko 0-1 0-1 0, Jemil North 0-0 0-0 0, Julian Malfregeot 0-3 0-0 0, Jacob George 0-0 0-0 0, Tirrell Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Ralston Kennedy 0-0 0-0 0, Juwan Jones-Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 9-37 17-24 39.
Bluefield........................25 14 4 21 — 64
Robert C. Byrd................4 11 14 10 — 39
3-Point Goals—Bluefield 2-10 (Eades 2-7, Yost 0-3), Robert C. Byrd 4-14 (Birch 3-6, Dyer 1-4, Steele 0-1, Carvelli 0-1). Fouled Out—Edwards, Coppola, Noble. Rebounds—Bluefield 34 (Coppola 10), Robert C. Byrd 32 (Noble 11). Assists—Bluefield 14 (Collier 11), Robert C. Byrd 6 (Dyer, Carvelli 2). Total Fouls—Bluefield 21, Robert C. Byrd 20. A—na.