WHEELING - There are nice wins and then there are cherished wins.
Wheeling Central's 58-45 victory against St. Joseph's Prep in Saturday afternoon's seventh annual Cancer Research Classic would fall into the latter.
The victory, which not only kept Wheeling Central undefeated on the season, was just its second in the CRC, which brings some of the top prep basketball talent in America to Wheeling Jesuit University. It's first came against Sewickley, Pa. a few years back.
"It's our first win against (St. Joseph's Prep) in about four or five tries, so we'll enjoy this one," said Wheeling Central head coach Mel Stephens.
While most in the Ohio Valley have become well aware of Chase Harler's talent, he showcased on a much bigger stage against a Prep squad, which had come to Wheeling undefeated.
Harler, who struggled in the first half from the field, got it going in the third quarter when the Knights turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 38-28 upperhand heading into the fourth quarter.
While Harler scored seven of his 19 in the third, he was by no means alone.
Alonzo Manns played arguably his best game of the season en route to game MVP honors. Despite being somewhat undersized against St. Joseph's Prep, the Knights made a concerted effort to work him the ball.
"He's a handful for only being 6-2," Stephens said. "You're never sure (about a scouting report) when you're playing these teams from out of the area, but once he started latching onto the ball, he was able to finish. He's a wide body and he really knows how to use that to his advantage."
Manns responded when his number was called, scoring a team-high 21 points. Manns scored seven of those in the third quarter when the Knights made their charge.
The Knights didn't let up in the fourth. Harler ignited the large crowd when he went up and dunked as he was fouled from behind.
"Chase is a pretty special player," Stephens said. "Those kinds of plays are the ones that only the big-time players make."
Senior David Park was his normal solid self, scoring 12 points. He hit a big trey during the Knights' third-quarter spurt.
"Chase and David are always going to be the guys that we're looking to," Stephens said. "We're always looking for that third and fourth (scorer) and tonight was Alonzo's turn."
While Manns and Harler did their part on the offensive end, Stephens was most proud of the way his team set the tone defensively in the first half.
"Even though we went in trailing by one, I thought our defense was outstanding," Stephens said. "If it hadn't been for a couple of rebounds we gave up, I think we would have went in with the lead."
In that first half, the Knights bottled up Division I prospect Chris Clover to just seven points. He did find his way to 16 more in the second half for game-high scoring honors.
Wheeling Central held a 35-29 edge on the glass. Park grabbed 11 boards and Manns tallied nine.
The Knights return to their home court against Magnolia on Tuesday.
"We'll be ready to get back to work on Monday and get ready for Magnolia," Stephens said.
ST. JOSEPH'S PREP (45) - Stewart 0, 0-0 0; Thompson 4, 1-2 10; Clover 7, 9-10 23; Fox 1, 0-0 3; Hoffner 1, 0-0 3; Burns 0, 0-0 0; Luciano 0, 0-0 0; Walla 1, 0-0 3; Macon 1, 0-0 3; Totals: 15, 10-12 45. WHEELING CENTRAL (58) - Park 2, 7-8 12; Stanley 0, 2-2 2; Harler 6, 5-5 19; John 0, 0-0 0; Manns 7, 7-7 21; Burch 0, 0-0 0; Droginske 0, 0-0 0; Bibey 1, 0-0 2; Burkhalter 0, 0-0 0; Merrick 0, 0-0 0; Campbell 0, 2-4 2; Totals: 16, 23-26 58.
3-point goals: SJP - Thompson, Fox, Hoffner, Wall, Macon. WC - Park, Harler (2).