STEUBENVILLE - The Steubenville Big Red boys' basketball team advanced to the Wheeling Hospital Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 4-A championship game with a victory over Harrison Central Tuesday at the Crimson Center.
And Big Red made it look easy.
Steubenville jumped out to a 15-2 lead before cruising to 77-41 win spurred by a press defense that turned 23 Huskies' turnovers.
"That was a big point of emphasis for all the coaches when talking to them," said Big Red head coach Mike Haney. "We thought our last two games we kind of lost because our defense wasn't where we thought it would be.
"We worked on it, the kids came in focused and ready to go, and I thought our defense was pretty fast. It was good team defense where guys were helping each other."
After Harrison Central's Austin Kowalski hit two free throws to make the score 4-2 Big Red with 5:36 left in the first quarter the Huskies went almost five minutes before a Kowalski three-pointer gave them their next points at 15-5.
"I take full responsibility," said Harrison Central head coach Justin Clifford of his team's struggles. "Obviously, I didn't have them prepared enough for this stage. We just weren't prepared."
A Kalub Mitchell basket made the score 15-7 after the first eight minutes, but the tone was set by Big Red's defense getting the home squad out in transition. Periogn West scored seven in the opening stanza to match Harrison Central's team.
"That's the key," said Haney. "That's why we like to put a lot of pressure on teams. We try to get turnovers and get the game up tempo.
"That's the type of tempo we like, and we were able to do that tonight."
Things went from bad to worse in the second quarter for Harrison Central. With Big Red up 28-14, and 4:12 left in the half, Steubenville went on a 12-2 run to lead 40-16 at intermission. West and Mylik Young each scored six in the quarter with Tajuan Lawson adding five.
Steubenville cruised the rest of the way as the benches for both teams entered the contest late in the third quarter.
Four double-digit scorers paved the way offensively for Big Red led by West's 20 points. Young added 15 with Lawson and Brandon Herring-Hill each delivering 10.
"We had four guys scoring," said Haney. "That's what we like, that kind of balanced scoring. I thought Mylik made a lot of big plays defensively.
"Tajuan Lawson did a great job defensively trying to hold (Fletcher) Watt. He's one of their best scorers."
Kowalski scored 12 to take top honors for Harrison. Watt, who scored seven points, gave the Huskies a reason to celebrate when he reached 1,000 career points during the third quarter.
"He's got our program back on track," said Clifford. "We had a couple of down years there, and he's been a big reason for that improvement.
"Him and those other two seniors (Rashaen Mitchell and Nick Pelegreen) are the reason we got to play in this game."
Awaiting Big Red in the title game is St. Clairsville, 76-48 winners over Martins Ferry in the other semifinal game.
That game tips off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Ohio University Eastern.
"At the beginning of the year we have some goals, and that's one of the goals, to always get in the top four," said Haney of the OVAC tournament. "We'd like to have a home game, like we did coming in second, and to make it in the championship.
"We want to come home with the championship, too."
Harrison Central hosts Martins Ferry Friday.
HARRISON CENTRAL (41) -- K. Mitchell 1 0-0 2, Kowalski 4 2-2 12, Yoho 2 3-3 8, B. Mitchell 0 0-0 0, Rutter 0 0-0 0, Watt 3 0-0 7, Redish 0 0-2 0, Evans 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, R. Mitchell 1 0-3 2, Olmstead 0 2-2 2, Pelegreen 3 0-0 6, Mizer 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 7-12. STEUBENVILLE (71) -- West 8 1-2 20, Linn 0 2-2 2, Herring-Hill 5 0-1 10, Bailey 0 0-0 0, Lawson 5 1-2 13, Herrington 0 0-0 0, Young 5 5-8 15, Sterling 2 0-2 4, Redman 3 1-1 7, Smith 1 0-0 2, Perdue 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 31 10-18 77.
Three-Point Goals: Harrison Central 4 (Kowalski 2, Watt, Yoho); Steubenville 5 (West 3, Lawson 2).