Oak Hill Downs MSA

West Virginia's top prep basketball school, complete with two WVU-bound players, found out what life at the top of the prep rankings are like in an 85-63 loss to Oak Hill (Va.) Academy on Tuesday night in Beckley. Mountain State Academy, led by 2010 commit Noah Cottrill and 2009 pledge Deniz Kilicli, was overwhelmed by the depth of the visiting Warriors, who are perennial powers on the prep scene.

That's not to say that MSA yielded without a fight. The Falcons, who lost one of their best players, Jabs Newby, just seconds into the game with a hip injury, battled Oak Hill through much of the contest, but a third quarter run, which led to an eight point advantage in the period, put MSA down by 17 going into the final quarter – a margin that few teams have the ability to overcome against a program like Oak Hill's which is loaded with future Division I players. MSA also played with last year's best player, Kofi Mensa, who has returned to his home in Toronto, Canada for further diagnosis and recuperation from an unspecified illness. Those two losses left MSA very short-handed, and certainly figured in the final margin.

"We need to work on mental toughness," Cottrill said of the lessons learned from the game. "A lot of our guys have never seen this kind of atmosphere, and we were kind of jittery and nervous at first. They just wore us down, because they were deeper than we are. But we'll learn from this, and we will be all right next time."

For MSA, Cottrill led the fight with 27 points, 21 of which came on 7-14 shooting from three-point range. Cottrill has definitely continued to improve his game since committing to WVU almost two years ago, and if he continues on that arc there's no question that he will be a factor in the Big East. He handled the ball very well against Oak Hill's pressure, which was designed to trap him and force him to give the ball up. While playing the point, he was still often able to elude defenders trying to deny him the ball, get it back, and run the offense. His signature no-look passes found cutting teammates for baskets, and he only had one turnover against five assists on the evening. He also spent some time at the two spot, which allowed him to better utilize screens to get shots away.

"It really doesn't matter. I like to play both positions," he said of moving between the two backcourt spots. "I like to play the one, with the ball in my hands, but whatever is best for the team is what I want to do."

Cottrill plays the game with a Bob Huggins-style brashness an intensity, which has led him into some wild streaks of play at times. However, he has clearly been working on staying under control, and only had one short stretch where he made a couple of bad decisions on offense. Those were sparked by an inbounds confrontation with Oak Hill's Lamont Jones, who tied up with Cottrill and wrapped up his arms while trying to deny him an inbounds pass. Cottrill forced a couple of shots on ensuing possessions as the matchup turned a bit personal, but he quickly regained control and got both himself and his teammates back on track. He is clearly best suited to the point position, where he will play in college, but getting work at both spots over the next two years will certainly help his overall development.

Defensively, Cottrill has also clearly been working on positioning and physical play. He bodied up well to cut off drives, and although he is not the quickest guard on the court, he certainly has the ability to be an adequate defender at West Virginia. It's his shooting and passing ability that are his strengths, however, and those were easy to see, even against the powerful Warriors squad. Other than the aforementioned short stretch, he took good shots (8-17 overall) and didn't force the ball into bad positions. He also finished with six rebounds two steals and one blocked shot, and was clearly unfazed, if respectful, of Oak Hill's talent.

"They are the best. They are really athletic and smart. Put it together, and they have a great team. We aren't the most athletic, and we need to work on getting our plays down. We will play better next time."

Kilicli, WVU's other commitment, had something of a rude introduction to the U.S. style of play. While showing good moves in the post, the Turkish frontcourt player grabbed just two rebounds, and did not mix it up in the lane with the intensity he needed to.

"I told him at the end of the game that this was what it is going to be like in the U.S.," MSA head coach Rob Fulford said. "He needs to go in there and try to tear the rim down on every trip. He can do that, but he isn't yet. He has a long way to go, but he wants to learn and improve."

Kilicli finished with ten points and one assist, and demonstrated the ability to turn and shoot with either hand when getting the ball inside. After an early fadeaway was blocked, he did make a handful of good moves inside in the second half. However, as Fulford noted, he needs to learn to finish with strong attacks on the hoop – something that isn't emphasized in the European style of play. He will also need to work on his defensive intensity and challenge more shots in the lane. His skill set is certainly there – he has the building blocks to succeed and construct a more powerful inside game to complement his shooting skills, and the schedule that MSA faces should allow him many opportunities to do just that.

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