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February 20, 2013

Armstrong Stages Wild Comeback

Wildcats Roar Back: Enjoying perhaps their finest season in basketball ever, the Armstrong Wildcats weren't ready to see it come to an end on Tuesday night. Trailing by 14 points after one quarter of play and 11 at the half, second-seeded Armstrong staged a spirited comeback, knocking off top-seeded Matoaca 73-66 in thrilling fashion.

Down by one late in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run over the game's final 2:05 to stun the host Warriors, whose turnaround season came to a close at 20-7 overall.

"We've been in this situation before. We were down by 17 points early in the season and fought back and won, and were down by 14 points. They were pretty good teams," remarked Armstrong Head Basketball Coach Darryl Watts afterwards.

"These kids don't give up and fight to the end. We talked at half-time that there's no such thing as a 16-minute game and wanted to go for 32 minutes, and that's what they did."

After a dismal first quarter where they scored only nine points, Armstrong warmed up with 44 points in the second half, shooting 62% from the floor. Three players scored in double-figures

"We're not just a one-pony show," Watts pointed out. You can take one away and we'll have something else coming at you. We've had four guys score 20 points or better in a game this year, and the fifth guy had 18."

That gives the Wildcats explosives and balance in their lineup. They also have chemistry.

"The thing about this group is they've played over 100 games together since J.V.," Watts added. "It's easy [for them] to play basketball together. They're seniors and juniors, have been through wars before, understand situations and did a great job staying in there."

Leading the way for Matoaca in defeat was senior post player and Second Team All-District performer B.J. Allen with 18 points and seven rebounds. Allen battled foul trouble affect collecting 10 points and four boards in the game's opening period.

Also scoring in double-figures for the Warriors was junior Khalil Coleman with 12 points and senior Rashard Lewis, another Second Team All-League pick, with 11 points. Coleman dished out seven assists, while Lewis added nine boards and six assists.

Matoaca, which won only five games a season ago, won the Central District Tournament for the first time in school history, led by the play of sophomore guard Devin Morgan, an All-Central District First Team choice. Morgan was held to five points and five assists

Player of the Game:
Armstrong junior guard Kevon Cooley. It was one of the best performances in a big spot in Cooley's career.

Cooley finished with 28 points, 22 of them coming in the second half, shooting 11-of-18 from the field, a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line and grabbed nine boards.

"Cooley is the straw that stirs the drink," Watts said. "He gets us going and the other guys feed off his energy. He did pretty much what we expected him to do. He's an excellent football player as well, so he may be getting looks from both directions."

Matoaca never brought a second defender at Cooley and high-energy, determined style attacking the cup enabled Armstrong to move on to the next round.

"I saw mismatches with the person that was checking me," Cooley commented. "I knew I could get to the hole, got in a groove, kept on boxing out and felt I'd be able to make key plays."

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Attack & Get to the Foul Line: It was a real simple formula, but Armstrong did it much better in the third and fourth quarters than in the first half when they settled for some jumpers and let Matoaca be the aggressor.

Cooley got almost all of his points in the painted area as did Mealy. Those two got Allen in foul trouble and consistently were able to get high percentage shots or trips to the free-throw line.

"I knew that we're a second half team and would come out hard and go get it," Cooley admitted. "We had to keep on attacking to the hole, get fouls and keep on going no matter who's in foul trouble."

As a team, Armstrong went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the second half and 17-for-20 for the game. On the other side, Matoaca went 6-of-10 at the charity stripe.

#2 - - Extra Possessions: When a team is one and done on its shots, it's very hard to win. That's especially the case when you go 0-for-13 from beyond the arc like Armstrong did. While shooting guard Robert Valentine, one of the Central Region's best at firing from deep, had an off night, the Wildcats made up for it by getting offensive rebounds.

Capital District Player of the Year Tavon Mealy, an undersized, yet hard-working forward with a non-stop motor, played under the weather, but was superb in the paint. Mealy ended up with 21 points and 12 rebounds, eight on the offensive end to give Armstrong the second chances they needed.

"It was all about heart," Mealy said. "We want to win it all and didn't want it to end."

Watts know he can count on him in any big game.

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog," he said of Mealy. "He's the epitome of that."

#3 - - Turn Up the Pressure: Armstrong certainly did it defensively, using a variety of traps and presses to give Matoaca and some of its inexperienced players in this spot some problems. The Wildcats showed multiple defensive looks, using a 1-2-2 half-court trap, a 2-2-1 half-court trap and even a 2-2-1 three-quarter court press.

As a result of their defensive pressure, the Wildcats forced Matoaca into 19 turnovers, six coming in the third quarter and four in the final period.

"Our defense leads to our offense. When we play defense, we feel like we're going to steal the ball. Our motto is hurry up and go get it," noted Cooley, who keyed the defensive charge with his five steals. "That's how we play defense."

Once Matoaca lost its lead early in the fourth quarter, they would tie the game up again and even take the lead, but never fully recovered and settled down to where they could take the last shot to win or tie the game to send it to overtime.

With 55 seconds left and down a point, the Warriors had the ball stolen by Mealy, and from there the Wildcats were able to sink free-throws to ice the victory.

One Win Away from State's:
At 24-3 overall, Armstrong sits just one victory away from making it to the Group AAA State Tournament, which would be an enormous accomplishment for a program that most expected to finish third in the Capital District behind Henrico and perennial contender Highland Springs.

"This is huge," Coach Watts said of the opportunity. "Right now the school and the community are buzzing. I told the guys at the beginning of the season to put the school on their back and the community on their back. Let's go down Broad Street until we get to Harrison. Right now, they've accepted that challenge, and here we are."

Armstrong's next challenge will come in the Central Region Tournament semifinals on Thursday night against John Marshall, the Colonial District Champ which enters with a record of 23-4 overall.

"We've been waiting for this for a long time," Cooley added. "This team loves each other. We've got experience, pass the ball to get buckets and have a lot of weapons.

Mealy, who battled stomach virus before Tuesday's tilt with Matoaca, is anxious to get a shot at playing for a State Tournament berth and the Central Region Championship.

"I've never been there before," he said. "It's great."

Postgame Audio with Armstrong Coach Darryl Watts


Armstrong 73:
Kevon Cooley - - 28Pts. (22Pts. 2nd Half), 11-18FG, 6-6FT, 9Reb. 3Ast. 5Stl.
Tavon Mealy - - 21Pts. 8-15FG, 5-8FT, 12Reb. (8Off.), 2Stl.
Robert Valentine - - 12Pts. 6-16FG, 2-2FT
Eric Lundy - - 6Pts. 2-4FG, 2-2FT, 3Reb.

Matoaca 66:
B.J. Allen - - 18Pts. 9-10FG, 7Reb. 2Blk. 4PF
Khalil Coleman - - 12Pts. 6-13FG, 7Ast.
Rashard Lewis - - 11Pts. 4-8FG, 3-4FT, 9Reb. 6Ast.
Resean Bolton - - 9Pts. 4-6FG, 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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