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February 9, 2013
For the fourth time in five years, the Landstown Eagles are Champions of the Beach District in the regular season. They won a tie-breaker game for the second time in that stretch to earn a #1 seed for the Eastern Region Tournament that commences on February 18th, defeating Kellam 54-42.
It was the Eagles' second win this week over Kellam, a team that beat them soundly in the season opener, 63-46.
"We weren't playing with the proper effort the first time. This time, we went hard the whole game, we were all together, played as one and we beat them," said Landstown senior Sebastian Sandifer, who was the game's leading scorer in the tie-breaker matchup with 13 points, including a pair of pivotal there-pointers in the opening quarter.
Landstown shadowed ODU commit Ramone Snowden, who scored a career-high 36 points in the first meeting, the whole time. They were determined to make him earn every point he got.
"We knew everybody had five fouls, so we threw everybody on him," Sandifer noted. "We had to make sure we rebound and everybody crashed the boards as a team. We made him work. By the fourth quarter, he was dead tired and it was easy after that."
The defensive plan for the Eagles worked. Snowden finished with a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, but went just 3-of-16 from the field and didn't dominate the game. Kellam's other four starters shot only 6-of-21 from the floor and supplied 18 points.
"We wanted to make the other guys beat us and not allow him to beat us. The first time, we pretty much did the same thing, except we didn't play the Box-and-One this time and didn't have to because he wasn't hitting his jump shot like he was the first time. The first time, he hit three 3's on us and we came out of the zone and put somebody on him everywhere," commented Landstown Head Basketball Coach Dwight Robinson.
"We stayed with our basic plan and didn't have to go to anything extravagant. We pride ourselves on playing hard and playing really good defense."
To go with the great start by Sandifer, Landstown got steady contributions from seniors Cameron Alston and Shyheim Swinson (CNU football commit), both of whom reached in double-figures with 12 points apiece. Swinson's three-pointer pushed the Eagles' lead to 19-11 late in the first half, but Kellam would go on a mini-run to cut the gap to 24-20 by the break.
In the third quarter, Landstown asserted itself inside with their two post players, senior Andre Stanley and sophomore Darius Bolstad. The 6-foot-8 Bolstad scored the first points of the second half, while Stanley grabbed 10 rebounds. Having two big men has made it a different looking Landstown team.
"In the past, we haven't had post play and have always been perimeter-oriented. Now, we have post play, which really helps us a lot and allows our shooters and penetrators to penetrate and find a big to finish. Being able to have those bigs means a lot to us," stated Robinson.
"Early in the year, we were trying to find an identity. After the Christmas break, I learned a lot about our team and what I needed to do as a coach in order to get this team where they needed to be. We really had to change a lot of things. We don't run as much, trap as much, press as much and have some bigger players that aren't as mobile as some of the teams I've had in the past. I had to change my coaching style to fit the personnel instead of making the personnel fit my coaching style."
Sandifer, Swinson, Alston and Bolstad all scored in the third quarter as the Eagles made six of their first seven shots in the period. They ended up 8-of-12 from the field in the stanza. As for Kellam, they went just 2-for-10 shooting in the third quarter. Best of all for Landstown, they committed only one personal foul in the quarter and forced four turnovers.
Kellam (17-5; 9-1) would make a run behind Snowden and the likes of sophomore point guard Janai Raynor-Powell and Alex Ratajczak, who scored 11 points off the bench and made three treys. The Knights had trimmed what was a 17-point deficit to start the fourth quarter down to eight.
With 2:50 to go in the game, Robinson made a surprising move by inserting their usual starting point guard, Jordan Roberson. An All-District candidate, Roberson sat out the regular season finale victory over Kellam with a sprained ankle and wasn't expected back until the district playoffs at the earliest. He sank four straight free-throws to put the game away with Kellam trying to rally late.
"That's what a leader does. He's an experienced guy and been on those Championship teams with really good players, so this atmosphere doesn't shake him," Robinson pointed out of Roberson, whose older brother D.J. was the Beach District Defensive Player of the Year last season and now plays College Basketball at CNU.
"Some of the other guys haven't been playing on the court in those type atmospheres. I needed a steady hand on the court and that's really why I played him. I was trying not to play him and may have got through without him, but to make sure we got through, I put him out there."
Thought to be behind both Kellam and Green Run, the Eagles have been on a roll ever since a trip to L.C. Bird over the holidays, where they fell to Bird and Middleburg Academy in a tournament after Christmas. Since then, Landstown (19-4; 9-1) has yet to lose in regulation and the team chemistry has strengthened.
"You could just see before the games, the way we approach games was totally different once we left Richmond," Robinson said. "Guys really played together and no one was really trying to do what they couldn't do. At first, we were trying to find our roles because everybody was brand new with no starters back. They accepted their roles."
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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