Mavericks blow past Tucker County, repeat as Class A state champions (With Gallery)

Mar. 18—CHARLESTON — The second trophy is as sweet as the first.

That was Matt Sauvage's summation after his James Monroe Mavericks basketball team won its second consecutive Class A boys championship on Saturday afternoon.

The Mavericks (25-2) galloped to a 66-35 victory over the Tucker County Mountain Lions (20-5) in front of a large crowd at the Charleston Coliseum, formerly the Civic Center.

Just like last March, James Monroe cut down the net and posed for dozens of photos as state champions. Sauvage absorbed all the happiness, but he soon explained that the second time around is nothing like the first.

"Defending a title is a different beast," Sauvage said. "It's a different mentality, in my opinion. Last year, it was, 'We want to win a championship.' This year, it's more, 'We've got to defend that championship.' So now, the target's on your back."

He said about his players, "I think they just enjoy it. This group here just enjoyed having the target on their back. They thrived off that. But, as coaches, it was like, 'We're going to get it all, here we go.'

"It was a different type of pressure. If I'm being honest, we'll take that pressure, every year. I mean, you'd be crazy not to like that pressure."

As usual this season, defense led the way for James Monroe on Saturday.

Tucker County got off 11 fewer shots than the Mavericks, and scored on just 31 percent of them, ending with 11 field goals. The Mountain Lions turned the ball over 14 times, a figure including 10 stolen balls by James Monroe.

"High pressure" was, in fact, one of the terms Sauvage had written on the board in the Mavs' locker room before the game. It was not a reference to the emotional stakes of the afternoon; rather, it was a tactic to be applied on defense.

"The first time we played them, there was not a lot of ball pressure," the coach said, referring to a January encounter with the Mountain Lions. "Once our guards started putting pressure, and getting traps out on the perimeter, it really made a lot of difference in that game."

"Basically, we took what (Tucker County) gave us, and we ran with it."

He said about the Mountain Lions, "They're good. They have a good team. And they're young, they're really young. So I expect Tucker to make a run next year."

The Mavericks took care of business on Saturday from the start.

Tucker County won the opening tip, but Cooper Ridgeway stole the ball away. Eli Allen took it down to the other end and laid it in for the game's first score.

A layup by the Mountain Lions' Trevan Bonner tied the contest 2-2, but Mavericks post man Juan Hopkins scored on a stickback and his team never trailed again.

Allen authored the last points of the quarter on a trey right in front of the Tucker County bench, then turned and yelled toward the James Monroe cheering section, pumping his fist.

After tallying that 13-9 lead, the Mavs allowed only 11 points in the second period. Tucker County managed a total of just 15 points after halftime.

The rout was on.

The Mavericks stretched out a 30-20 halftime lead by starting the third quarter with an 8-to-2 run. As the advantage expanded, Allen seemed like a coach on the floor, calling out plays and motioning teammates to one location or another.

Sauvage said, "He facilitates a lot, but, (in) this game here in particular, we knew coming in, that if we could get certain switches ... Eli was going to be able to score a lot of points. ... He played great tonight."

The senior, recently anointed the West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, went 12 for 16 from the field on Saturday, connecting on all four of his three-point attempts. He chalked up 29 points and contributed four assists, three steals and one block.

In his three tournament games this year, Allen made 32 field goals and averaged 24.7 points per game.

"I mean, truthfully, (we) just run the sets. The coach puts us in the right positions," he said. "I didn't shoot the ball the best, the first two games, from outside, or the free-throw line, but I made it up with layups and the mid-range (shot)."

Fellow senior Josh Burks added 13 points in the title game. Hopkins contributed eight points, seven rebounds, one assist and a block.

For Tucker County, Bonner was 5-for-9 from the floor, ending with 14 points. Garrett Wilfong came off the bench for 11 points. The other four starters for the Mountain Lions went 1-for-10 in field goal tries.

Ashton Lycliter, Tucker County's 6-foot-4 post presence, was held scoreless and did not record a rebound.

Sauvage said, "Lycliter's a beast. He's so strong. So we knew we had to keep him off the boards."

"One of the things we put on the board (was) to win the rebounding battle. Don't let them out-physical us," Sauvage said.

When it was all over, the Class A all-tournament team included James Monroe's Allen, Burks and Owen Jackson; Tucker County's Bonner and Lycliter; Clay-Battelle's Preston Luzader and Colby Barr; and Brayden Ferris of Tug Valley.

The game plans compiled by Sauvage and James Monroe assistant coaches Corey Miller and Todd Lusk produced double-digit tournament wins in all three games.

A reporter asked for reaction to that statistic in the postgame press conference.

Allen responded, "Some people kind of say, like, 'Oh, you're Single-A, you're not that good.' I think that coming out here and winning every game by double digits, just shows that, I think, we can beat anyone."

Sauvage, a pastor as well as a coach, was more humble.

He began his postgame address to the media by saying, "I'm blessed. But first of all, I'm blessed by God. And that has nothing to do with wins and losses. So if I don't say that, I feel like I'd be neglecting the One who means the most to me, and that's my Lord."

TC 9 11 8 7 — 35

JM 13 17 18 18 — 66

Tucker County (20-5)

Trevan Bonner 5-9 3-3 14, Levi Bennett 0-2 0-0 0,Maddox Anderson 0-4 0-0 0, Ashton Lycliter 0-2 0-1 0, Owen Knotts 1-2 0-0 2, Aaron Quattro 0-0 2-2 2, Brok Bennett 0-0 0-0 0, Ethan Roseau 1-8 4-7 6, Garrett Wilfong 4-4 3-5 11, Justin Robeson 0-2 0-0 0, Cole Carr 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 11-35 12-18 35.

James Monroe (25-2)

Josh Burks 4-6 4-5 13, Cooper Ridgeway 3-4 0-0 6, Eli Allen 12-16 1-3 29, Collin Fox 1-6 2-3 4, Juan Hopkins 4-7 0-0 8, Layton Dowdy 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Mann 1-1 0-1 2, Braxton Charlton 0-1 0-0 0, Evan Hunter 1-2 0-0 2, Chaz Boggs 0-1 0-0 0, Ethan Ganoe 0-0 0-0 0, Owen Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Brady Baker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-46 7-11 66.

3-point goals: TC 1 (Bonner); JM 5 (Burks 1, Allen 4). Total fouls: TC 9, JM 16. Fouled out: none.