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January 29, 2013
Tuesday night's Eastern District clash between the Norcom Greyhounds and Maury Commodores in Portsmouth had major implications. With a win, Maury would stay atop the league standings, two games clear of everyone with three games to play. Meanwhile, Norcom was trying to stay in the race with a victory and forge a tie with the Commodores.
Behind 23 points from senior guard Malique Trent and 17 apiece from senior swingman James Whitaker (North Carolina A&T) and junior Troy Locke, the Greyhounds jumped out to the early lead and never trailed after going in front on their way to a 65-52 victory over Maury.
Trent came out on fire with 10 points in the opening quarter, nailing a deep three-pointer and throwing down a crowd-pleasing jam. While Maury struggled to convert at the foul line, Norcom noticeably came out with a purpose.
"It's nothing special; it's just how we have to play," Trent noted. "We just have to come out with intensity and keep it rolling. They were on a 10-game winning streak and their only loss was to us and now we've beaten them again."
In the first half alone, Trent and Whitaker combined for 27 points and 13 rebounds as Norcom was ahead by nine and got Maury out of its comfort zone quickly, turning the ball over 11 times before intermission and missing nine of their 15 free-throws.
"When they're both rolling, we're a pretty good offensive team," admitted Norcom Head Basketball Coach Leon Goolsby after his Greyhounds moved to 10-7 overall, 9-2 in the Eastern District. "My problem is I'm more of a defensive guy. I don't worry about how many points we score, I worry about how many points we give up."
The Greyhounds are playing with heavy hearts the rest of this year. Back on January 8th, assistant coach Barney Stevenson suffered a heart attack. He passed away nine days later.
Norcom's players wore shirts in warm-ups with Stevenson's picture on it to honor him in what was their first game since his death. They are dedicating the remainder of their season to him.
"This game meant a lot to us. We were certainly in a slump going through all the adversity losing one of our coaches. This game was really a test because they were in first, now we're tied, so now we've got to win out, hopefully they lose and then we'll be the Eastern District Champions," said Whitaker, who did yeoman's work on the glass with 13 rebounds.
His teammates shared those sentiments.
"Every time we play, I think about my coach," added Trent. "That's always on my mind. I go out and play for him and wish he was here."
Before beating Wilson 10 days prior to the matchup at home versus Maury, the Greyhounds were in a major tailspin. They had lost three in a row, six of eight, including their first loss to Churchland in 22 meetings dating back to 2003.
Bouncing back the way they have is a positive sign that the Greyhounds are about to hit its stride at the right time.
"The guys battled and handled adversity well throughout the week. All we do is talk about it. This is about life," Goolsby added.
"Life is not fair how it treats you, but it's about how you handle adversity, and most of it is about 90% mental. Therefore, if you can handle it mentally and not sink to the lulls that will happen to you, things at the end will be good for you. We've been up and down and it's been a rough season for us. It's not how you start, but how you finish."
On the glass, Norcom had its way with Maury. No one registered double-digit boards for the Commodores, whereas the Greyhounds had three players for 30 boards in Trent, Whitaker and Locke.
"Getting offensive rebounds had been our weakness before and not really defending the 3 ball like we have been doing in the past. That's what we really emphasized and I talked to them tonight about holding them to one shot, make sure they don't get off from the three-point line, getting out to the shooters and closing out the lanes on penetration," remarked Goolsby.
"I thought tonight we played pretty good defense. Having Troy Locke back gave us that energy. I thought Marques Harvey and Terrell Camp played well, and even Pernell Ractliff, who was struggling lately, but somehow got his shot going to give us more balance."
Locke turned out to be an x-factor for Norcom, playing his part of closer. He had been out with a torn muscle in his hip. On the night, Locke scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth period.
"All I did was just play my role, let them go off and then I come in and finish things off," Locke said.
Falling to 16-2 overall, Maury has now lost seven straight at Norcom. They haven't won on the Greyhounds' home floor since December of 2005.
Norcom's players are confident they can go on a run in the playoffs.
"I think this sent a message to the rest of the region," commented the senior Whitaker on the win. "What we went through is over and we're coming with our all every game. It's our last go around. We have to give it our all, night in and night out because there's no next year here for us."
Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail email@example.com, and don't forget to listen to him on High School Sports Talk from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.
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