WHEELING - Mel Stephens knew what his Wheeling Central boys' basketball team would encounter in the second game of this weekend's Cancer Research Classic.
''We knew coming in they were big and that rebounding would be the key,'' Stephens said following Friday night's battle against Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy at Wheeling Jesuit University.
He was right on both accounts. And both variables came into play during a 20-4 second-quarter spurt that propelled the Blue Storm to a 58-41 triumph before a standing-room-only crowd inside the McDonough Center.
Wheeling Central’s Chase Harler (14) dribbles around the guard of Mercersburg Academy’s Trustin Riley (2) during their CRC game at Wheeling Jesuit University.
''The second quarter is where they blew it open,'' Stephens said. ''If you lose one quarter that big you're going to have trouble winning.''
Things started out well for the Maroon Knights. Chase Harler (6 points) and David Park (5 points) helped Central grab a 13-12 lead after the first quarter.
Central also had an advantage on the boards, too - 17-6.
So what happened? Dre Wills, that's what.
The 6-foot-1 senior scored the first six points of the second quarter for Mercersburg and proceeded to rattle of 12 of his team's 20 during the quarter.
He finished with a game-high 26.
And they weren't your average buckets, either. His first was a jumper in the lane. That was followed by a thunderous, crowd-pleasing dunk and then a spin move in the lane for another.
Next, he scored on an off-glass jumper. He finished things off with a pair of second-chance jumpers.
''They did what they had to do,'' Stephens said. ''The biggest difference was they made their shots and we didn't.''
Wheeling Central was 1 of 14 (7 percent) during the quarter.
The second quarter was also the only quarter the Blue Storm won the battle on the boards - 12-7.
''I was shocked when I saw the rebounding stats,'' Stephens said regarding his team's 44-33 advantage for the game. ''I thought they killed us on the boards.
''But it seemed like all the ones they got they made count.
''I think that was the difference. The offensive rebounds they converted and the offensive rebounds we got we didn't.''
The Maroon Knights got plenty off good looks, especially during the deciding quarter. But the Blue Storm mostly came out with a lineup that consisted of a pair of 6-8 players and one that was 6-7.
''They were so big inside,'' Stephens said. ''The shots we did get a lot of times were altered because of their defense or were blocked.''
Park, who was the only Maroon Knight to reach double-figures in scoring with 17, had 10 of those in the third quarter. But the lead swelled to 19 for Mercersburg and reached 20 twice early in the fourth.
''For the most part we got good shots,'' Stephens said, ''but that's been the story thus far for us.
''We just have to get more consistent and put the ball in the basket more.''