By Don Clegg
Cancer Research Classic
WHEELING, W.Va., Dec. 15, 2007 -- Wheeling Park tipped off the inaugural Cancer Research Classic in historic fashion Saturday afternoon at Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center. An aggressive Patriot defense forced East Liverpool into 25 turnovers and Wheeling Park held the Potters to just 8 second-half points en route to a 40-23 victory. East Liverpool's 23 points were the fewest ever scored by a Wheeling Park opponent and the Patriots' 40-point output was the lowest winning total in school history.
"We've been preaching to our players that offense can come and go but defense and rebounding are constants," said second-year Park head coach Michael Jebbia.
"I think we started out 3-for-22 from the floor today but we played great team defense. We won the game on that end of the floor."
Senior post Matt Pearson sat out the game with an injury for the debuting Patriots, who also lost starting guard Scott Safczak to an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Junior point guard D'Jhae Jackson took game scoring honors for The Park with 9 points while Safczak and sophomore forward Richard Hall added 7 each. Hall, playing in his first varsity game, was a presence on both ends of the court. Despite battling a taller, stronger Potter front line, he pulled down a game-high 7 rebounds, dished out a game-high 5 assists and collected 4 steals.
"I got banged around a lot playing with my older brothers," he smiled. "That didn't bother me.
"I was a little nervous at the start but once we got into our full court defense, I just felt like I was back playing at the (YMCA)."
That full-court defense turned a close game into a blowout over the final two quarters. Leading just 19-15 at the break, the Patriots held the Potters off the scoreboard until the final minute of the third quarter. By then, Wheeling Park had pulled away to a 29-15 lead and the issue had been all but decided.
"We wanted to force the tempo a little more in the second half," said Jebbia, "so we went back to our full-court man (defense). That's something we've really emphasized and the kids did a great job."
Freshman Jason Dickey led East Liverpool (2-2) with 7 points. Nathan Howard, a 6-5 senior center who came into the game averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds a night, was held to 6 points and 4 boards.
"As poorly as we played, we were only down four points at the half but they came out with a run and we didn't respond at all," said Potter coach Matt Cashdollar.
"It's too early in the season to blow everything up but we did not play as hard today as we have been playing and practicing."