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Hawks start fast, take down Knights in section semifinal

Feb. 28—MORGANTOWN — The first two meetings between the University and Preston boys' basketball teams this season featured tightly-contested first halves with the Hawks ultimately pulling away in the end. Things were different in a Class AAAA Region I, Section 2 semifinal Wednesday as UHS, led by its four-man senior class, came out of the gates hot and opened the game on an 18-0 run en route to winning 85-42.

"I thought the biggest difference was the energy that we played with, " UHS coach Joe Schmidle said. "I think our kids were upset with the effort that we gave last week against (Preston) and they wanted to come out and prove we were the better basketball team."

The Hawks used a relentless full-court press defense that forced the Knights into more turnovers than shot attempts in the first quarter.

"We just came out wanting to push on the ball a lot and keep them up-tempo, " said UHS senior John Coleman, who led the team with 10 points in the opening frame. "These past two times we haven't done a good job against them in the first half. We came out good in our last two practices and we did a lot of things good (Wednesday), especially with our energy."

To make matters worse, Preston struggled to knock down the shots it did get. The Knights opened 0-5 from the floor until Slaton Manko hit a three-pointer to make it 18-3.

"We struggled in the first half with the press, but we also didn't shoot it well, " Preston coach Bucky Forbes said. "We had trouble knocking down some good looks and when you don't shoot the ball well, it's tough to score."

University led 22-3 after the opening eight minutes, with its seniors—Coleman, Luke Hudson, James Forney-Garbart and Carson Ford—accounting for every point.

"They've been playing together for a long time and were really just clicking, " Schmidle said. "We had 25 on 34 baskets. That just shows you how well they're sharing the ball and how unselfish they're being."

Coleman finished with a game-high 19 points as those four combined to score 43.

"A lot of us started coming together in middle school, " Coleman said. "We've all been friends on and off the court and that really helps when we play together."

Fortney-Garbart scored nine, Ford had eight and Hudson finished with seven. Freshman Kahlil Lewis scored 10, eight of which came in the third quarter, and five other Hawks each had six.

Preston found its footing in the second quarter and played better after halftime, but the damage had already been done as the Knights never got onto a run to cut into University's lead.

"We're a very young basketball team, so we're still learning a lot of things, " said Forbes, who started two sophomores and two juniors. "We need to learn how to stop a run and how to overcome a run."

Kaden Bachtel led the Knights with 18 points. Although this season comes to an end for the Knights, their 7-13 record was a marked improvement from the 1-22 mark in 2022-23.

"We've lost a lot of basketball games that were very close this year, " Forbes said. "I think the next progression for us is learning how to win those close games. I think we very easily could've had 12 wins this year."

University advances to the section championship, which will be played against Bridgeport at UHS on Friday at 7 p.m. The Indians defeated Buckhannon-Upshur 53-44 on Wednesday.

BOX SCORE University 85, Preston 42 PHS 3 14 17 8—42 UHS 22 19 27 17—85 PRESTON—Rugg 1 1-2 4 ; Bachtel 6 5-6 18 ; Hayes 0 0-0 0 ; Manko 2 0-0 5 ; White 1 0-0 2 ; Smith 0 0-0 0 ; Schmidl 3 0-0 6 ; Farrell 1 3-4 5 ; Graham 1 0-0 2.

UNIVERSITY—Coleman 8 3-3 19 ; Hudson 3 0-0 7 ; Brown 2 1-2 6 ; Ford 3 0-0 8 ; Fortney-Garbart 4 1-1 9 ; Jackson 2 0-0 6 ; Lewis 4 2-3 10 ; Henderson 2 1-2 6 ; Karpinski 3 0-0 6 ; Kleeh 0 0-0 0 ; Byrer 1 0-0 2 ; Vira 2 0-0 6.

3-Pt. Goals—9 (Ford 2, Jackson 2, Vira 2, Hudson 1, Brown 1, Henderson 1).