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February 19, 2013

Bruins Advance to ER Quarters

Thomas Shoots Knights Out of the Zone: It didn't take long for Western Branch to shake off a discouraging loss from their last game. The third-seeded Bruins built a quick 11-0 lead less than four minutes into the game of their matchup with Beach District Tournament Champion Kellam, and stayed in control for a 65-55 win over the Knights.

For Western Branch, it was their first Eastern Region Tournament victory since 1999, and they have senior guard C.J. Thomas to largely thank for the outstanding start that'll have them playing in Thursday night's quarterfinals.

Thomas, who came in averaging less than eight points per game, lit up King's Fork last week for a season-high 24 points and six three-pointers. His encore performance was even more special against the Knights, draining six three-pointers in the first quarter alone and coring 20 points in one period as Western Branch led 27-10.

That hot start took Kellam out of its 1-3-1 zone defense they usually play.

"When I found out that they were in zone, my goal was to shoot them out of the zone and I did that real early," Thomas said.

Now 18-8 overall, the Bruins sit just two wins away from a berth in the Group AAA State Tournament, this for a basketball program that went just 7-37 overall during the freshman and sophomore seasons of senior starters such as Thomas, Jashad Jamison and Demonte Burns.

Player of the Game:
Western Branch senior guard C.J. Thomas. Committed to play his College Football at Christopher Newport University, Thomas was shining in another sport on Monday night in the opening round of regionals as he carried over a career best performance from the Southeastern District Tournament Championship into a win-or-go-home setting.

Thomas ended up with a game-high 23 points and converted six of his first seven shots from long distance. His confidence pulling the trigger from the perimeter has grown, and so too has his game on the hardwood.

"I've just been working on my shot and every game it's been getting better and better. I'm proving it now. Last season I don't think I would've hit six 3's in a game. I've become a lot more comfortable shooting," remarked Thomas after his tremendous performance.

"It was just a great game. Hopefully, I'll come back and do it again on Thursday at the Scope."

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Contest Snowden's Shots: The storied High School Basketball career of one Ramone Snowden for the Kellam Knights came to an end on Monday night. Named the Beach District Player of the Year this season, Snowden will now go on to play his College Basketball at Old Dominion University, where the local fans get a chance to see him on a regular basis.

In his final game in a Knights uniform, Snowden put up respectable numbers of 19 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and made 7-of-8 from the foul line. He did however battle foul trouble, which forced him to come out of the game for a few stretches longer than usual, and his shooting percentage wasn't the best at 6-of-21.

Credit the Western Branch defense, particularly Jamison, who swatted away his shot on a couple of occasions, for making him have to work extra hard to get his points on drives.

With Snowden on their team, Kellam went 76-26, including 20-6 overall this season. They won a pair of Beach District titles and got to the regional semifinals his sophomore year. Before his arrival, the Knights were 25-64 in the four years prior.

#2 - - 3-Point Shooting:
As a team, Western Branch shot 7-of-11 from beyond the arc in the first quarter. That's unheard of at the High School Basketball level, considering most teams don't seven 3's in a game, let alone in a quarter, and when they do the percentage is far less than 64%.

That changed the entire complexion of the game moving forward.

Meanwhile, Western Branch's defense bottled up the Knights from long distance. Kellam went 0-for-10 from three-point territory, so the Bruins finished +24 behind the arc in the opening round of the regional tournament.

#3 - - Finish Strong:
That's something the Bruins didn't do when they let a 16-point lead with seven minutes to play against King's Fork evaporate just three days prior. They've had a few double-digit advantages disappear, and another would end their season.

As expected, Kellam made its rally behind Snowden and another senior, forward Chris Smith, who scored half of his 18 points in the third quarter. The Knights would pull within five, 45-40, with 7:12 left after Snowden drilled a pair of free-throws.

Western Branch then showed composure at the other end with consecutive buckets from Jamison, followed by made free-throws by Burns and Drew Corrigan (son of ODU Head Basketball Coach Jim Corrigan). After giving up the first four points of the final period, Western Branch outscored Kellam 20-15 over the final seven minutes, never allowing them to get within one possession down.

Region Favorite Next: During this season, Western Branch has accomplished some goals they've set, such as knocking off Southeastern District contenders Nansemond River and Great Bridge. They also will be headed to the Norfolk Scope to play in the Eastern Region Tournament quarterfinals.

Awaiting the Bruins will be Kecoughtan, co-Champions of Peninsula District during the regular season and Peninsula District Tournament Champs. The Warriors got to the State Final Four a season ago, feature two D-1 signees in Rajay Bullock (Providence) and Greg Alexander (ECU), and check in with a record of 23-4 overall after edging Churchland in the opening round of regionals.

A Western Branch win would certainly be viewed as an upset one of the biggest wins in basketball in school history.

"Every step we take, it gets bigger and bigger," Thomas pointed out. "The harder we play, the better we'll get. We're hoping to come out Thursday strong. In basketball, you never know what's going to happen."


Western Branch 65:
C.J. Thomas - - 23Pts. 7-13FG, 6-11 3's, 5Reb. 2Ast.
Nigel Ribeiro - - 15Pts. 3-8FG, 8-8FT, 2Ast. 4Stl.
Jashad Jamison - - 11Pts. 5-8FG, 3Ast. 4Blk. 3Stl.
Drew Corrigan - - 5Pts. 2-2FG, 2Reb.

Kellam 55:
Ramone Snowden - - 19Pts. 6-21FG, 7-8FT, 14Reb. 2Ast. 3Stl.
Chris Smith - - 18Pts. 7-15FG, 4-7FT, 6Reb.
William Shook - - 8Pts. 4-8FG, 4Reb.

Matthew Hatfield serves as AAA State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related info and updates. To contact Matthew, please e-mail [email protected], and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 and watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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