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December 18, 2013

#1 Heritage Pulls Away Late

Final - - Heritage 55, Bethel 42

It wasn't always pretty, but they overcame the ugly stretches to pull away late. Ranked #1 in the state in Group 4A by VirginiaPreps.com, the Heritage Hurricanes shook off a sluggish start and missing two key components in their lineup to notch a road win over the Bethel Bruins, 55-42 on Tuesday night.

Heritage trailed 13-7 early in the second quarter and by a count of 21-20 at the half in a game that was sloppy to say the least. Through one quarter of play, there were as many fouls by the two teams combined - - 15 - - as points scored, plus they combined for 22 turnovers before intermission.

By night's end, the two Peninsula District teams were whistled for a total 50 fouls. That earned plenty of moans and groans from fans, plus didn't sit too well with many of the players or coaches.

"It was extremely frustrating," said Heritage senior forward Troy Gibson of all the whistles. "It's hard for my whole team because we're an attacking team and don't really shoot. When we go to the cup and they're not calling it, or we're playing tight defense, it's hard for us to get in that groove of how we play."

Those are some of the tests that a team with a target on its back has to go through. Earlier this month, Gibson's game-winning stick-back at the buzzer beat Hampton, giving the Hurricanes their first win over the Crabbers since December 2004. Now 5-0 overall, Heritage had won each of its previous four games by scoring a minimum of 70 points. This time, it needed a gritty defensive effort to hang onto that top ranking and stay undefeated.

"We know we're in a new territory for us, being #1, but they're embracing this," admitted Heritage Head Basketball Coach Mike Gardner, whose Hurricanes were winless just a few years ago.

"For our kids, the message is to get out there and persevere through stuff, whether it's fouls, teams shooting well and we're not. We're after to see how tough we are. We had one at Hampton like this, we had one here and we've come out victorious both times, which is really good for us, especially early in the season."

Absent for Heritage were two injured guards in Jermaine Marrow, a sophomore with an offer from Hampton University, and senior guard Michael Duncan. Marrow is nursing a foot injury, while Duncan sat out with a stress fracture in his finger. The two are valuable parts in the backcourt, and without them, the Canes turned it over 21 times, though only committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Bethel has now dropped three in a row to the Canes, Green Run and Menchville - - all by double-digits - - to fall to 3-3 overall. The Bruins were led by senior point guard Khalil Barnette's 10 points. Josh Owusu chipped in nine.

Next up for Heritage is Woodside, which presently is ranked #10 in the state in Group 6A. The Wolverines were the team that eliminated Heritage in overtime in the Peninsula District Tournament quarterfinals last season.

Player of the Game: Heritage PF Troy Gibson - - The 6-foot-4 senior power forward served as a magnet to rebounds. On the night, he registered a double-double with 16 points and 18 rebounds, showing no fear of doing the dirty work.

"Normal night," said Gardner. "Troy is one of our captains and this is his year. Last week, I think he had 21 and 18 (vs. Warwick). I'm really proud of him. He's thinking like that, staying focused throughout the course of the game."

Gibson is being recruited by a host of Division II and Division III programs, most notably North Carolina Wesleyan and Virginia Wesleyan. About half of his points on the night were scored on tip-ins.

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Pound the Glass: Certainly Gibson's presence made this goal attainable. He constantly attacked the offensive glass, and when Bethel focused too much on him, it was the Hurricanes' other front-line player that did damage. 6-foot-5 senior forward Corey White also came close to notching a doubled-double with 10 points and nine boards.

Even without two players that normally log heavy minutes, Heritage played nine guys. On the evening, they out-rebounded Bethel by a commanding margin of 42-18. That means Gibson by himself grabbed as many boards as the entire Bruins team.

"Our depth is what keeps us going," believes Gibson. "There aren't many teams in the PD that have the depth like us."

#2 - - Value Possessions: What enabled Heritage to go from trailing to up eight by the end of the third quarter was how they valued possessions on the offensive end of the floor. They broke free with a 16-point period after scoring only seven in the game's opening eight minutes because they pushed the tempo, but more than that, the Hurricanes weren't baited into bad shots from the perimeter.

Remarkably, Heritage attempted only one three-pointer the entire game. That was a stark contrast from Bethel, which went 3-for-21 from long distance with only one make in the game's final quarter.

Sophomore point guard Malik Marrow and junior Romello Anderson, a 6-foot-3 wing averaging close to 20 points per game on the campaign thus far, played major parts in that endeavor. Anderson finished with 17 points on 50% shooting. Marrow's stats weren't overwhelming, but he was able to get them moving at a more rapid pace in the second half.

"Malik is just getting back, too. He had a foot issue as well," Gardner pointed out. "He's going to come around because he is savvy. When he gets going, Malik is pretty tough."

#3 - - Buckle Down on D:
It was an ugly first half of play. Bethel preferred it to stay that way, but Heritage wasn't going to remain stuck in the muck for the duration.

Their defense forced the Bruins into 12-for-47 shooting from the field, just 25.5%.

"The 42 points, that's what we're really happy about," Gardner noted.

Come playoff time, when all else fails, Heritage hopes to fall back on their athleticism, depth and ability to defend all five positions on the court.

"We run and jump everything," stated Gibson, not fazed by the high expectations put on the program this season. "It's real different. We're usually the hunting. Now, we're the hunted. But we practice how we're going to play, and that's like we're the hunted."

Final Stats:

Heritage Hurricanes 55: (5-0 Overall)
Romello Anderson - - 17Pts. 6-12FG, 5-9FT
Troy Gibson - - 16Pts. 6-14FG, 4-10FT, 18Reb.
Corey White - - 10Pts. 3-6FG, 4-4FT, 9Reb.
Malik Marrow - - 4Pts. 1-3FG, 2-6FT, 4Reb. 2Ast.

Bethel Bruins 42: (3-3 Overall)
Khalil Barnette - - 10Pts. 3-8FG, 3Ast.
Josh Owusu - - 9Pts. 2-6FG, 5-9FT
Cam Bacote - - 7Pts. 2-9FG, 2-3FT, 2Ast.
Jeri Forson - - 5Pts. 1-7FG, 3-10FT, 4Reb.

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 hatfieldsports2k4@yahoo.com, 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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