By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
The “Deuce” was loose.
Jamar Briscoe, nicknamed “Deuce”, scored 31 points, reminiscent of past performances at the Division I level, to lead Pikeville to an 85-70 Mid-South Conference decision over Bluefield on Saturday evening at the Dome Gymnasium.
Pikeville (15-1, 5-1), which entered as the NAIA’s fourth ranked team, placed five players in double figures, but poor shooting and Bluefield defense kept the Bears from reaching 100 points for a ninth time this season.
“I think we both had our worst shooting percentage we have had all year, really neither team took bad shots, it just wasn’t one of those nights,” said Pikeville head coach Kelly Wells, who led the Bears to the NAIA national championship in 2011. “I thought both teams completed extremely hard, we mirror each other a lot in what we try to do and that makes for a good contest.”
Bluefield (6-8, 2-4) played without starters Andrew Wilson and Deontae Hallums, who are out with eligibility issues so the Rams went with such newcomers as Eric Swift, who had 11 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists in his varsity debut for the Rams.
Josh Nesbit had four points and 10 boards in his first game at Bluefield, while Pierre Walters had 12 points his second game. Jesse Sunkins had three points in his third contest with the Rams.
“The thing is the effort, the effort was there,” said Bluefield College head coach Richard Morgan, who is uncertain when or if Wilson, Hallums and others will return.
“You should be able to plug another guy in there, that is called a program.
“We harp on that and we take pride in this being a program. We feel like we can plug another guy in and get the same results so this is definitely a good measuring stick for us. That is probably one of the tougher teams in this league so we feel like we should be right there at the end of the day.”
Bluefield, which defeated No. 3 Georgetown in its MSC debut in December, hung with the Bears, leading once at 4-2, but Pikeville went on a 9-0 run, forcing the Rams to play catch-up from there.
Pikeville’s starters combined for 79 of its 85 points, led by Briscoe (31, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), Trevor Setty (15 points, 13 rebounds), St. Francis (Pa.) transfer Chris Johnson (12 points, nine assists), Josh Whitaker (11 points) and Virginia Commonwealth transfer Terrance Santil (10 points, six boards, 4 blocked shots).
Briscoe was second (17.8) in scoring to Duke’s Seth Curry among the nation’s freshman at North Carolina Central, and later averaged 12.5 points and 7.3 points in two seasons at Charlotte. He had signed with Mountain State for his senior campaign, but wound up at Pikeville.
“Their first five is really, really talented, I think that is one of the top teams here,” Morgan said. “They are 15-1, 5-1 in the league and they are definitely going to be there every year.
“Kelly does a nice job with them, and having Briscoe coming in from D-I, that helped him tremendously.”
Bluefield hung with Pikeville, never trailing by more than seven in the opening half, while twice moving within two. The Rams went to the break down 42-36, with Briscoe leading all scorers with 20 points.
Byron Carpenter, who was honored before the game for scoring his 1,500th career point on Thursday, was held to 14 points, snapping a streak of 15 games with at least 20. He entered leading the MSC with 26.0 points a game.
“They are a good team, they have got a lot shooters, they have got big men, they are a well-coached team,” said Carpenter, who wasn’t looking for excuses with the absence of Wilson and Hallums. “It is tough, but we have got to play through that, that is adversity.”
Kearston Marion led the Rams with 15 points, while newcomers Walters (12) and Swift (11) demonstrated the athletic ability needed to play in the MSC.
“We will be right there with the athleticism,” Morgan said. “That is what we did when we went out there and recruited, we wanted to get guys that could play those kind of minutes.”
Bluefield was able to trim the Pikeville lead five early in the second half, but Whitaker (7) and Briscoe (6) combined for 13 points during a 17-8 run to push the lead to 63-49 with 11:46 on the clock.
The Rams cut the margin to seven at 70-63 with 4:05 left, but four turnovers were converted into baskets as the Bears pulled away for their eighth straight win against their short-handed opponent.
“It is just going to be a matter of getting these guys acclimated to everything and having them understand what we are trying to do,” Morgan said. “Chemistry is big. Those other guys knew exactly where they were supposed to be all the time, these guys are found in wrong places at times, that makes it difficult for us.”
Pikeville, whose lone loss this season was to MSC foe Campbellsville, was unseeded two years ago in the NAIA tourney and wound up beating Mountain State from Beckley in the finals.
That success has helped the Bears maintain its program at a high level.
“I am sure it had a lot to do with that,” said Wells, who recalled that the 6-foot-8 Setty was a key part of that club. “We have attracted some really good kids and some good players, but the thing that has helped our program is our mommies and daddies have produced me some good players.”
Bluefield, which has lost four of six since a 4-2 start, will hit the road for four straight, beginning Thursday at Lindsey Wilson, as the Rams continue to prove that being picked last in the MSC preseason poll was a mistake.
“I think our guys have really bought in to what we are trying to accomplish here and being picked 11th, you don’t really have to do anything, but go out and play hard,” Morgan said. “It is nothing to feel no stress or anything.
“We can just go out and play free and I think that is what our guys do, but a couple of plays here or there and I think we are right in the mix.”
—Contact Brian Woodson