WEIRTON - The contrast was so visible Friday night at the Dubie Dome.
There was two-time defending state champion and homestanding Madonna turning the ball over repeatedly and missing shots.
Then, there was unbeaten Steubenville Catholic Central controlling the game with junior point guard Michael Barber directing traffic while scoring a career-high 25 points, and coach Sean Tucker's team stepping up its second half defense.
GO FOR IT — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Michael Barber gets a steal while Madonna’s Levi Shreve goes for the ball in the first half of Friday’s game in the Dubie Dome. The Crusaders won, 61-37.
The Crusaders were only up by two points at halftime, but won the game going away, 61-37.
The defense was so intense in the second half that the Blue Dons (1-3) scored just one field goal and 10 points.
"When we came in at halftime, I noted that we weren't playing as aggressive as we wanted to," said Tucker. "We practiced extremely hard on being aggressive defensively leading up to this game because it seems like every time we come here it is a very, very tough environment no matter what skill level we have as a team.
Catholic Central 61, Madonna 37
Catholi Central 15 14 18 14 - 61
Madonna 12 15 6 4 - 37
CATHOLIC CENTRAL (6-0): M. Barber 8 6-7 25, Colabella 9 4-6 4, T. Barber 1 0-0 2, Carapellotti 1 0-0 2, Manfresca 0 0-2 0, Fletcher 2 1-2 6, Herrington 3 3-3 9, Martello 2 2-2 7, Porreca 1 1-2 3, Dombroski 1 1-2 3. Totals: 19 18-26 61. Three-pointers: Barber (3), Fletcher, Martello; Rebounds: 23 (Fletcher, 7); Turnovers: 8.
MADONNA (1-3): Guio 3 2-2 8, Jeter 1 1-5 3, Ewusiak 4 2-4 10, Bowser 2 2-2 7, Carnes 2 0-0 6, Stakias 0 1-2 1, Martin 1 0-0 2. Totals: 13 8-15 37. Three-pointers: Carnes (2), Bowser; Rebounds: 20 (Jeter, 5); Turnovers: 21.
"We weren't aggressive in the first half as we needed to be. At halftime we talked to them about it, explained it to them and they answered it for themselves. And that's what this group does. That's what I love about this group. They know what they are capable of doing."
The Blue Dons, on the other hand, struggled with ball control committing 21 turnovers. Madonna coach George Vargo was expecting to have junior Ross Comis, who was a starter a year ago, as his point guard, but Comis broke a bone in his hand playing for the Blue Don football team.
That means Vargo will have to go deep into the season without his services while using inexperienced guards.
"It was a combination of their defense and our lack of guard play," veteran Madonna coach, George Vargo, explained. "We have inexperienced guards, who are learning the game and until they learn the game, they can't play the game.
"We have three guards that we tried today. We just have to be patient. They are sophomores. The future looks bright, but the present doesn't look so good."
Vargo has started different guards thus far in the young season and Friday night it was sophomore Marquis Jeter getting his first varsity start. Jeter scored three points, but led the Blue Don rebounders with five.
He had a tough assignment keeping up with Barber, the diminutive point guard who hit three from behind the arc, drove the lane several times tossing up floaters and topped it off with five steals.
"There were a lot of open lanes tonight because they were in a zone," said Barber, who came off the bench last season. "They were giving me a lot of shots. They were giving a lot of people shots. We didn't make a lot of them in the first half, but in the second half we starting making them.
"It felt pretty good to get 25 points for the first time."
Barber scored 10 of his points and got three of his steals in the first quarter.
Madonna held a slim 12-10 lead when 6-11 junior, Josh Martin, got his only field goal of the game with 2:20 left in the opening stanza.
But Barber stole the ball in the Blue Don end of the court and drove all the way to the basket for a goal at the 1:06 mark. He was fouled on the shot and made the free throw giving the Crusaders the lead. Barber, who hit 6 of 7 from the charity stripe, tacked on two more free throws before the period ended giving Central the lead at 15-12.
"Our point guard did a fantastic job of being patient, running the offense and seeing the floor," Tucker explained. "We had minimal mistakes and that's what we need out of a leader, and that's what he showed tonight.
The second period was nip and tuck with Madonna outscoring the Crusaders 15-14 and narrowing the margin to 29-27 at the half.
Central senior Zach Herrington opened the second half scoring as he was fouled going to the basket. He made the layup, then cashed in the free throw to give his team a 32-27 lead.
Madonna junior Nate Guio answered with a short jumper with 6:37 left in the third quarter, and that was the only field goal the Blue Dons would get in the second half. The Dons scored six points in the third period and four in the fourth.
As both teams head into the Christmas break, coach Tucker felt his ball club gave him the best Christmas present he could get.
"This is a great, great win going into Christmas," he said. "This is one of the greatest Christmas gifts a coach could ever have is this victory tonight because they (Madonna) are a well coached ball club. To be able to hold a team to 10 points in one half of a basketball game, especially a team as good a Madonna, that says something about our kids."
The Crusaders displayed a balanced scoring attack with 10 players getting into the act. Senior Herrington scored nine points to back up Barber.
Madonna junior, Tyler Ewusiak, was the only Blue Don in double figures with 10 points. Guio followed with eight.
Both teams are off until Friday when Madonna hosts cross town rival, Weir High, in the annual city championship game, and Central goes to the Undos Tournament in Wheeling to play Cincinnati Arch Bishop McNicholas at 5:30 p.m.