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December 20, 2013

#2 Warriors Beat Bulldogs, 66-58

Final - - Nansemond River 66, King's Fork 58

When Suffolk rivals Nansemond River and King's Fork get together in basketball, it's always a raucous crowd and packed-to-capacity arena. Thursday night's tilt at 'The Kennel,' was no exception as fans filed in early and watched another intense battle with the Warriors prevailing, 66-58.

Ranked #2 in the state in Group 4A coming in, Nansemond River trailed by as much as seven points in the first half. They started just 4-of-16 from the field with five turnovers through one quarter of play.

"I think at first, we settled on too many jump shots, they weren't falling and weren't serious enough about rebounding," said Nansemond River Head Coach Ed Young. "When shots don't fall for us, we don't seem to be excited about playing defense, and those things will kill you against a team like King's Fork."

But things began to turn around midway through the second quarter as Nansemond River started to force King's Fork into some turnovers. The Bulldogs converted 6-of-14 from the field to open, but turned it over 10 times in the half, seven in the second period. Shots stopped falling for them in the third quarter as they went 0-for-6 from beyond the arc, and Nansemond River took advantage in building a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

Having won four overtime games this year, three of which were in double-OT, King's Fork stayed resilient and didn't panic. They managed to trim the deficit down to four with 1:16 remaining on a three-pointer by sophomore point guard Deshaun Wethington.

Nansemond River closed by scoring six of the game's final eight points and made 8-of-13 free-throws in the final period to ice the victory, their seventh in as many tries. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for King's Fork, dropping the Bulldogs to 6-2 overall and one game back of the Warriors in the Ironclad Conference standings.

Player of the Game: Nansemond River PF Marvin Branch - - Making only his second start of the year, the 6-foot-2 senior forward gave the Warriors outstanding minutes as he proved to be an x-factor and difference maker for a team with star power in the form of 6-foot-4 senior Devon Oakley, 6-foot-4 junior wing Scott Spencer and 6-foot-8 senior Daniel Wallace, all of whom are receiving D-1 looks.

Branch, a linebacker from the football team, showed he can do a little something on the hardwood by providing 17 points, a career-high that also had him sharing game-high honors with Spencer.

"Whether I'm coming off the bench or starting, I try to make the most of every opportunity, play hard every night and give the team the best chance to win. I was just in a zone," remarked Branch afterwards.

"We kept swinging it to the corner, they were more keyed in on Daniel, so I just rolled to the basket every time and was wide open. I knew we had to get rebounds, bang inside, keep my teammates composed and it was a physical game."

On the night, Branch converted on 8-of-9 field goal attempts and also corralled seven rebounds to help the Warriors control the backboards, 35-33. Plain and simple, his hustle and toughness at both ends, along with increased scoring production, were instrumental in the win.

"We thought he would be a decent matchup on Deshaun Wethington, very, very quick guard for King's Fork," Young stated. "Marvin has a lot of that energy, and I like him coming off the bench because he plays with a high motor. He wanted the challenge (of starting) and wanted to get back at Deshaun because King's Fork beat us in football."

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Settling Down: It was clear that both teams came out amped up, though the Bulldogs were more composed in the early going, while the senior-laden Warriors were the ones rushing a bit. Afterwards, some wondered if they started off better, things might not have been so tight in the closing minutes of the fourth period.

"We shouldn't come out sluggish, especially a rival game. Everybody should be high-tempo, come out ready to play, head on straight, feeling the crowd," believed Spencer, a junior being recruited by VCU, Tulane and a host of D-1 programs. "But I knew we were going to get on a run because we always have a quarter where we get a spurt. Devon, Daniel or I usually spark it, or one of our teammates is able to get us going."

In the third quarter, Nansemond River got that jot, in particular from Spencer. The athletic wing attacked the rim consistently, enabling the Warriors to grab control during that stanza when he scored nine of their first 13 points. Many of those points came going towards the cup.

"I'm starting to learn that going to the bucket opens up a whole variety of options, whether it's shooting, driving, driving and kick. It opens the whole game up," commented Spencer.

Despite the victory, one Nansemond River player felt they can do better.

"I don't think we played fully to our capabilities," admitted Branch. "When we meet them the second time, it'll be at our place and hopefully we'll be more calm."

#2 - - Share the Sugar: One of the trademarks for Nansemond River over the years under Young has been their transition game. They came in averaging 68.7 points per game and easy baskets on the break are imperative to them hitting their average.

For much of the first half, the Warriors struggled to do that effectively. By the time the second half rolled around, they got in more of a groove in that with making the extra pass a major reason why. Nansemond River finished with 18 assists, six more than King's Fork, and they produced 12 of them over the game's final two quarters.

Point guard Jalen Warren, a first-year starter, led the way with seven of those dimes.

"Jalen's a very unassuming kid. When you talk about point guards in the area, his name will never get mentioned," Young pointed out.

"Our system is so predicated on our point guard play. We've had the likes of a Vaughn Wilson and Dontrell Brite in the past. He's not the player those kids are, but he's holding his own, being very steady and not turning it over or hurting us at all."

#3 - - Finish Strong & Take Care of the Ball Late: In addition to those assists mentioned in Key #2, the Warriors cut down on the turnovers late in the ball game. They gave it away only twice in the third period and went seven minutes without to begin the half. Only once did they turn it over in the fourth quarter.

By reducing the turnovers, Nansemond River was able to maximize their possessions, get the ball inside and play their style of game. Furthermore, their top scorer found hit touch late.

After shooting only 2-of-10 to start, Oakley scored 10 of his 16 points in the final quarter, highlighted by a three-pointer with 5:29 to go that pushed the lead to double-digits.

Neither Oakley nor Spencer had dominating performances from a statistical standpoint. That being said, Young is encouraged by how good this team can be when they do.

"Spencer's going to have a breakout game of 30 and 15," Young added. "Oakley's already had his 30-point game and can hit 30 on any given night. You beat a team like King's Fork, a big rival that's 6-1, and your two big guns didn't have that great of a game, that shows you that some other kids can do the job."

Eight guys are averaging 10 minutes or more for the Warriors. All 13 players will have started a game by Saturday when the Warriors play Smithfield and freshman K.J. Davis cracks the starting lineup.

Final Stats:

Nansemond River Warriors 66: (7-0 Overall, 2-0 in Ironclad Conference)
Marvin Branch - - 17Pts. 8-9FG, 1-1FT, 7Reb. 2Stl.
Scott Spencer - - 17Pts. 5-11FG, 6-6FT, 4Reb. 5Ast. 2Stl.
Devon Oakley - - 16Pts. (10Pts. 4thQ), 4-12FG, 6-13FT, 8Reb. 2Stl.
Daniel Wallace - - 12Pts. 5-11FG, 2-6FT, 4Reb. 2Ast. 5Blk.

King's Fork Bulldogs 58: (6-2 Overall, 1-1 in Ironclad Conference)
Deshaun Wethington - - 14Pts. 5-12FG, 3-5FT, 5Reb. 4Ast. 2Stl.
Tyree Smith - - 10Pts. 3-5FG, 3-4FT, 3Reb.
Keith Stagg - - 8Pts. 2-11FG, 3-4FT, 7Reb. 2Blk.
Dale Roscoe - - 6Pts. 3-4FG, 2Reb.

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 at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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