By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield State’s Big Blues basketball team kicks off its home season tonight, taking on Lander University in the nightcap of the Currence Classic at Ned Shott Gymnasium.
Bluefield State is coming off an 89-62 WVIAC loss to Pitt-Johnstown, Tuesday night in its season opener. Antoine Bryant led the Big Blues with 12 points and three assists, while Vincent Rogers came off the bench to drop in 11 points. Samuel Ouedraogo led BSC with six rebounds.
Lander is located in Greenwood, S.C. The Bearcats enter the Classic with a 2-0 record, having defeated Allen and Mars Hill. Lander lost exhibitions against Athletes in Action and Clemson.
BSC head coach Jamaal Jackson knows that the Bearcats will be a tough opponent for the Big Blues.
“They’re from the Peach Belt Conference, a very tough conference,” Jackson noted. “They won 20-plus games last year and one of their players, the two guard, Pruett, averaged 29 points a game last week.”
David Pruett a 6’3” wing was named Peach Belt Player of the Week for his performances in which he scored 32 points against Allen and 28 against Mars Hill. He is Lander’s leading scorer this season.
Coaching Lander is someone who is familiar with Bluefield State and West Virginia. Jeff Burkhamer is a 1984 graduate of Alderson-Broaddus College and is still the assists leader at AB. A graduate of Parkersburg High School, Burkhamer was also associate head coach at Marshall in the late 1990s.
The opening matchup the first night of the Classic, tipping off at 6 p.m., pits former WVIAC member WVU Tech against Chowan College.
Located in Murfreesboro, N.C., Chowan comes to Bluefield with a 2-2 record, having recorded wins against Maryland Bible College and Catawba, and losses to St. Augustine’s and Washington Adventist University. Chowan plays in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), a conference mostly of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in which Bluefield State was a member from the 1920s to the mid-1950s.
In the Hawks’ most recent outing against Washington Adventist, Tuesday, Ashante Ross had 10 rebounds and 15 points, while Quinton McDuffie fired in 21 points.
There is a West Virginia and WVIAC connection also with Chowan as Brett Vincent, former coach at Fairmont State, is in his first season as head coach of the Hawks.
WVU Tech is no stranger to Ned Shott Gymnasium. The Golden Bears and Big Blues were each members of the WVIAC from the mid-1950s until the last decade when WVUT left the conference to be an independent, then a member of the Mid-South, to being an independent once again. Tech is now an NAIA member.
Saturday’s games will pit Bluefield State against Chowan and West Virginia Tech against Lander.
Jackson talked about the level of competition in this year’s field.
“The CIAA and Peach Belt are two of the top (Division II) basketball conferences,” Jackson said. “We really have two tough games. I don’t schedule cupcakes, D-III’s, or branch schools. It might help my win-loss record, but I’ve got to do what’s best for the program and that is preparing us for the WVIAC. You’ve got to play the best to be the best. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best.
“We have to compete and get used to competing. Those easy-win schools aren’t going to help our players in any kind of way when we play teams like Charleston, West Liberty, or Wheeling Jesuit, so we need to play the best to prepare for our conference schedule.”
The Big Blues take to the home court in game two of the opening night of the Currence Classic at 8 p.m. against Lander.
The Currence Classic is named in honor of the late V.L. “Stubby” Currence (1905-1981), former sports editor of the Daily Telegraph. In addition to his duties at the newspaper, Currence also served as an assistant coach at BSC in the 1920s and ‘30s, was a professional baseball scout and was involved in many other activities in Bluefield and around the country.
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org