The Bottom Line
By Bill Nestor
It wasn’t like a scene from an old western where there were tumbleweeds rolling by the Civic Center but in comparison to the scene in mid March it was relatively quiet. I spent this past weekend in the states capital and I learned a little about how our neighbors view basketball.
On the high school level hoops fans are typically territorial and are biased to some extent towards teams from their own town. It’s not quite the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s but there has always been a north vs. south rivalry and in all of the years that I have travelled to the Charleston area I have never heard a southerner proclaim a team from up north as one to beat for a state title.
Everyone was really high on Poca and rightfully so as the Dots have the total package. They are loaded with talent and they are extremely well coached. I spent an hour talking with Poca head coach Allen Osborne just before Christmas as his squad squared off against Robert C. Byrd at West Virginia State University. That game went the Dot’s way, as have all the others that they have played this season. Poca has done exactly what the Flying Eagles did last season. This same matchup went to Robert C. Byrd early in the schedule and they used it as a springboard that propelled them to a perfect regular season record.
In the last few weeks we’ve looked in detail at a pair of Class AA teams that have had great starts in Robert C. Byrd and Lincoln. Let’s take a more detailed gander at Bill Bennett’s group. A senior laden nucleus of Devonti Birch, Justin Noble, Cameron Carvelli, and Alex Banko along with junior standout Luke Dyer round out the starting lineup.
The Flying Eagles are not the same team that lost that early season lock-up with the Dots. Carvelli didn’t play in a game that saw Poca knock down nine three pointers. In addition three starters (Birch, Noble, and Banko) did not have their basketball legs because of football season. Another factor is bench play. Coming into the campaign there were several talented but untested players looking for ways to contribute Bennett has done an excellent job of not only developing but also growing his bench to fit his needs. He wants his team to play intense defense from end to end and in order to accomplish that feat properly he has to keep a “fresh five” on the floor for all four quarters.
Robert C. Byrd is shooting 44% from the floor and it is no coincidence that it is directly related to their defensive efforts. They have forced tons of turnovers and have translated them into easy buckets. It has been a recipe for success for the Flying Eagles. They are also utilizing the above-mentioned bench to wear down opponents by running the floor on every opportunity – even made baskets. In other words, like it or not the pace of play is dictated by Bennett’s Boys and that is something that Poca nor any other team from the south has seen.
Another impressive move by Bennett has been the beefing up of the schedule. Robert C. Byrd has taken to the road to play any and all corners. The Flying Eagles had only scheduled eight regular season home contests. Bennett has put his team in a position to play the best of the best in hopes of better preparing his team for Charleston when it matters the most – when it isn’t so quiet.
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!!