By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
An 11-deep Concord University rotation ran the Pitt-Johnstown Mountain Cats out of the Carter Center gym on Saturday afternoon, giving the Mountain Lions a 3-0 start to their basketball season.
Concord never trailed en route to its 86-76 home-court win, but UPJ closed the margin to one point on two occasions in the second half and tied the contest with 7:17 left.
Mountain Lions head coach Kent McBride said, “They made a run, and we made the last run, which is the important one.”
Praising the UPJ coach, a 24-year coaching veteran, McBride said, “A Bob Rukavina team is not going to quit. ... We knew it would be a fight to the end, and I’m really proud of the way my guys played and stuck it out.”
Both teams were 2-0 before Saturday’s action, but McBride knew the visitors were short-handed.
“We wore them down,” the Concord coach said. “We knew, going in, they only play seven guys. We played 11. We ran at them, and ran at them, and ran at them. I think our pressure eventually took their toll.”
Concord guard Mike Boyd said, “They got tired, they got tired real quick. At the 10-minute mark in the first half, we saw that they were huffin’ and puffin’, so we just wanted to keep up the pressure, and pressure them more so we could get the win.”
The Mountain Lions’ so-called “bench” players scored 17 points in the first half as Concord built a 40-32 lead at intermission.
Pitt-Johnstown senior Nick Novak, perhaps the top point guard in the West Virginia conference, led his team in a 10-to-2 surge that dissolved Concord’s 61-53 lead and created a 63-63 tie. In the process, he sank two foul shots after a technical foul was assessed on the Concord bench.
Rukavina said, “We started handling the press a lot better and got some easy baskets. ... We went in a good spurt where we defended them very well. I thought we really battled to get back, because they’re a very good team.”
“We tied it, (but) we made some very bad decisions. We had the chance to take the lead and we didn’t get a shot off, two times in a row. I think that did it right there.”
Damien Tunstalle restored Concord’s lead to eight points on a jumper with 1:15 left, and in the final minute of action, newcomer Paul Byrd was 8 for 8 at the foul line to maintain the cushion.
Tunstalle said his thoughts during that stretch were, “The next possession, we’ve got to get something good here. That’s what we think, you’ve got to get something going, extend that lead a little more.”
Tunstalle netted 25 points, Byrd had 20 and Jordan Davis recorded 11 points and eight rebounds for Concord, which went 19 for 22 at the free throw line. Pitt-Johnstown made 8 of 12 foul shots.
McBride said, “I have confidence in all my guys, shooting free throws. One of the key stats going into this (was) how many free throw attempts do we take, compared to them.”
Novak led his team in three stat lines with 27 points, five assists and two steals. He tied for the team rebounding lead, with six boards.
McBride said, “We beat a good team. I’m proud of coming out with the win. We have to take things from this and get better, and we will. I have a great group of guys ... .”
Concord has a road game at Alderson-Broaddus on Tuesday evening, and then the team will begin its Thanksgiving break. Boyd said he will still be working out during that span.
“I got to stay in shape so we can keep pressing all day,” he said.
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org