ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Some expect today's 3 p.m. affair between the St. Clairsville and Steubenville Big Red boys basketball contest at Ohio University-Eastern to be a track meet.
No one expects the battle for the Wheeling Hospital Ohio Valley Athletic Confernece Basketball Championships Class 4A title to turn into a four-corners affair.
One thing is for sure, both head coaches expect defense to be the main priority.
"We have to get after it defensively," said Big Red coach Mike Haney, whose club is making its initial appearance in the finals. "We have to know where everybody is at all times. We have to know where (Dan) Monteroso is, but we cannot forget about any of their other players.
"They are a very good basketball team. They share the ball offensively like we do. They look for the open player and they will make that extra pass to the open guy. We have played teams who take as many threes as they do, but we have yet to play a team that makes as many threes as they do.
"They can shoot it."
Big Red's offense is led by senior point guard Periogn West and his 13.3 scoring average. He is joined in the backcourt by seniors Tajuan Lawson (12.2) and John Linn.
Steubenville has senior Mylik Young (12.5, 9.2 rebounds) and junior Chris Smith to round out the starting five.
Senior Glenn Purdue and juniors Brandon Herring-Hill and Chris Sterling come off the bench to provide plenty of punch on both ends of the floor.
"Big Red is a good basketball team," said Red Devils mentor Kim Clifford. "They get after it defensively and share the ball well on offense like we do.
"This game is going to come down to which team performs better defensively.
"You can talk all you want about both offenses, but defense will win this game. It's going to come down to which team performs better in half court defense.
"At some point in time, someone is going to have to dig in defensively and get a stop."
Monteroso leads St. Clairsville with 25.9 point and 9.1 rebounds an outing. He also leads the senior-dominated team in steals, blocked shots and is second in assists.
Senior Riley Carlton and his 11.2 average is expected to be back after a three-game absence due to injury.
Senior Jerrid Marhefka averages just under 10 points a game and senior Adam Jeffries is at 9.4 and can also shoot the trey.
"We are a team that relies on each other," said Clifford. "Of course, we have the big scorer, but when they start running guys at them to double team, they get the ball to the open guy and that guy knows what he can and cannot do and we've been pretty successful with that."
Junior Joel Giffin rounds out the starting five and senior Dylan Campbell and senior Jared Burghy come off the bench.
The Red Devils held a 28-26 halftime cushion and went on for a 69-43 win in the January meeting between the two.
"I think what happened in that game is we maintained our halfcourt defense," said Clifford. "It was back and forth during the first half. But, we were able to dig in for the entire second half defensively."
Both are coming off lopsided semifinal wins. St. Clairsville defeated Martins Ferry 76-48 and Big Red topped Harrison Central 77-41 after taking a 40-16 advantage into halftime.
"It was total team defense. We really got after it and we shot the ball well," Haney said of the first half. "There's been games where we played really good D, but didn't shoot the ball well. Or, shot the ball well, but didn't play great D. I think that was our best half as a team."
That game came on the heels of a 76-72 loss to Brooke.
"Our emphasis during the couple days of practice after Brooke was our defensive play," said Haney.
"That's what got us the record that we have.
"We have to play great D against St. Clairsville. We have to get rebounds and limit their second chances. We know what each other is going to do.
"It's going to come down to defense."