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February 8, 2014
#3 Bruton Beats #8 Grafton 53-50
Final - - #3 Bruton 53, #8 Grafton 50:
A Bay Rivers District showdown took place on Friday night in York County at Bruton High School, where the host Panthers edged the visiting Grafton Clippers, 53-50 in front of a packed to capacity crowd.
Bruton won the first meeting over the Clippers, 64-59 back on January 3rd. This will be the last meeting between the two schools considering the Panthers will play in the postseason in Group 2A and the Clippers participate in Group 4A. But both battled as if a Championship was on the line.
"It's become a big rivalry. It's really like an early State Tournament preview with the crowd that comes and the intensity," stated Bruton senior guard Marcus Carter, an All-State candidate.
"They came back a couple times and took the lead, we came back a couple times and took the lead. It was back and forth, and felt like a State (Tournament) game. They'll probably be the toughest team we'll play until the playoffs come and it should set us up good with having to defend, stay calm and get through the pressure."
For much of the first half, Grafton controlled the action and built a 10-8 lead after a first quarter in which the two teams combined for 18 fouls. Out of the gate, the Panthers started 1-of-15 from the field and trailed 17-9 when senior guard Lonnie Swinton hit a three-pointer. However, shortly thereafter, Swinton was whistled for his third personal foul.
Even without Swinton, Bruton would make a run to energize the home faithful, closing the half by going 5-of-8 from the field. The final shot before the break that put them in front was drilled by reserve Jalen Carr from long distance off a pass by Carter.
Behind the stellar play of senior guard Joey Miller, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, Grafton would respond from a seven-point deficit by going on a 19-10 spurt. In addition to Miller's drives to the hoop, Preston Kiedinger and freshman Cle'Von Greene combined to sink five three-pointers, the last one coming with 4:08 to play that would give the Clippers a 46-43 lead.
After that, Bruton ran off eight unanswered, highlighted by a falling away three-pointer in the corner by Swinton. The Panthers were able to turn Grafton over six times in the final period and neither team scored in the final 1:48.
While there was an offensive flurry from both sides in the second half, defense got the job done in the end for Bruton as they were able to complete the regular season sweep of a Grafton team that is coming off back-to-back appearances in the Group AA Division 4 State Championship game.
Without the district now, you still kind of look at it as a local thing because you want to be the powerhouse in the area and Grafton had been that the previous couple years," commented Bruton Head Basketball Coach Joe Dillard. "I think we've gotten our name out there now, feel like we can step up in big games and can play. Rivalries like that bring nothing but the best out of two teams."
Ranked #1 in the state in Group 2A for most of the season, Bruton began the season 12-0 overall with 11 wins by double-figures. They then ran into a reigning three-time State Champ in Brunswick at the Lawson Classic at Virginia State University. There, the Bulldogs handed Bruton its only loss to date, 58-52.
"It was a long bus ride home back from Virginia State. Most people sat out there in shock, but we didn't dwell on it a lot. But we took it as a good thing. Most teams don't go to the State Championship games without a loss. It's better now than later," believes Carter, who hopes to maybe see Brunswick again in the postseason on their quest to a state title.
"We've just got to play better defense and not rely on our shot. We've got to get out on the break, punch the ball to the hole and get those and-1's like we did in the second half."
Player of the Game: Bruton G Marcus Carter - - By his own admission, Carter didn't shoot the ball particularly well, going 7-for-15 from the field without a make from three-point land. What he did do well in the third and fourth quarters was get to the rack. On the evening, he made 7-of-11 shots inside the arc, and in the second half played aggressive, finishing with nine trips to the foul line.
In addition to his scoring prowess, Carter grabbed six rebounds and made four steals, his last one coming in the closing seconds when Grafton was looking to tie the score on a three-pointer. His senior leadership down the stretch proved to be instrumental.
Keys to Victory:
#1 - - Taking Care of the Basketball: Using their athleticism to apply some defensive pressure and cause turnovers, the Panthers only turned it over four times over the final 24 minutes after committing five turnovers in the opening period.
"Basketball is a game of mental mistakes. The team that makes the fewest mistakes has the better chance to win," noted Dillard.
As the game went on, Bruton started to solve Grafton's tandem-and-three defense that they opened with and get higher percentage shot attempts.
"It was a little bit of sloppy play and shooting at the beginning, but we knew we had to take care of the ball at the end to keep us in the lead throughout the fourth quarter," said Carter. "Limiting the turnovers and picking up the defense were definitely important."
"It's a game of runs," Dillard pointed out. "We had a little quick 7-0 spurt, got a time-out and we knew they were going to come back. We stayed focused on our job and knew they had a couple sets they were going to in the clutch. The key tonight was not getting beat on those sets twice."
Miller got loose in the second half for Grafton, though the Panthers kept each of the other four starters to single-digits and didn't let them get easy opportunities at the rim.
"We let Joey get to the hole a lot of times, but their main guys around him, like #20 the shooter, we wanted to get a hand in his face and contain them," Carter remarked.
Edwards chipped in 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and the plays he made were all timely. His three-pointer late in the second quarter brought Bruton within one. In addition, he forced a crucial turnover before the half and his partial block of Greene on a three-point attempt preserved the lead with under a minute to go.
"He's been challenged. He had three or four key plays that can make him Player of the Game and I wouldn't shy away from that at all," Dillard said of Edwards.
"Early in the year, he got in the starting lineup and started to progress. He had a couple of defensive setbacks and that's fine, I'm a defensive coach. I don't care how many points you score, you've got to play D'. He started getting better and this was the perfect opportunity for him to show himself and he did. I'm very proud of him."
Bruton Panthers 53:
Clippers 50: (14-3)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.
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