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January 18, 2014

#2 Topples #1 in 4A Showdown

Final - - #2 Heritage 70, #1 Nansemond River 55:

In a battle between #1 vs. #2 in the state in Group 4A, the Heritage Hurricanes made the trip to Suffolk to take on the Nansemond River Warriors with first place in the Ironclad Conference on the line. While the two teams are set to meet again later this month in Newport News and could face off yet again the postseason, the first round went in favor of Heritage, 70-55 as a third quarter burst propelled the Hurricanes to a vital road victory.

Heritage, ranked #2 in the latest Top Ten in 4A after opening the season at #1, now moves to 12-3 overall, 4-0 in conference play, performing well in front of the near packed to capacity crowd at Nansemond River.

"They love this atmosphere and you've got to love this atmosphere. I just felt this crowd would help us," stated Heritage Head Basketball Coach Mike Gardner.

"I've been talking to them all season long about I didn't think we were playing with any passion. They were passionate tonight. That's how we were playing in the summer time. We played with a passion, a little swag, unselfishly and I enjoyed watching my guys play."

It was a seesaw affair in the first half with several lead changes and ties. Both teams exchanged fast-break baskets and lay-ups with some jumpers sprinkled in, and Heritage went to half-time up 34-31.

Nansemond River, which fell to 14-2 overall and 3-1 in the Ironclad, scored the first two buckets of the second half and looked to be on its way to seizing control. Heritage had other ideas, and from there really raised their emotion and energy level to a fever pitch.

"We knew they were going to bring the intensity, so we tried to come out harder than them and beat them off the jump," commented Heritage senior power forward Corey White. "This shows that if we put our minds to it we can do it. We're a force to be reckoned with and I think we made a statement."

Heritage put three players in double-figures, including the game's high scorer in White. Junior wing Romello Anderson added 13 and senior power forward Troy Gibson chipped in 11. On the year, the Hurricanes have had nine different players score in double-figures. One of them, sophomore guard Jermaine Marrow, is still out due to injury, though is expected to play in the team's next meeting with Nansemond River.

Jermaine's brother, sophomore point guard Malik Marrow, handed out 10 assists and made several key plays in transition during the third quarter spurt that put Heritage in front for good.

Putting up strong numbers in the defeat for Nansemond River was senior forward Marvin Branch. A linebacker on the football field, Branch registered a double-double with 13 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

Player of the Game: Heritage PF Corey White - - Named the Daily Press Peninsula District Volleyball Player of the Year, White was not only showing off his leaping ability and instincts, but was proving he can do a thing or two on the hardwood when it comes to scoring.

The 6-foot-5 forward put up 20 points, 14 in the second half, on 10-of-12 from the field. In the paint he was a major factor as the game progressed, displaying better than adequate footwork and some nifty maneuvers in the lane, even hitting a couple of hook shots.

"His skill level is underrated. It's even underrated to him," stated Gardner, who dug into him early in the third period with the Hurricanes trailing and needing a jolt. "He was the target of my time-out."

White saved his best for the fourth quarter. That's when players can separate themselves. In the eight-minute stanza to conclude the ballgame, he scored 10 points, didn't miss a shot and corralled four of his seven rebounds.

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Furious Run: Down 39-36 with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter, Heritage ran off 16 unanswered points and got buckets from multiple sources. Anderson scored in transition, Gibson converted a three-point play, also scored in the paint, Marrow knocked down a three-pointer and also found two-sport athlete Marcus Van Hook for a basket.

Given the stakes, it was the biggest blast of the season for the Hurricanes to date.

"They scored the first two buckets of the [second] half and right away we were behind. We just weren't playing tough enough, so I called time-out. I said, 'hey guys, you're going to have to toughen up.' From that point on, they took care of it themselves," remarked Gardner.

Heritage turned its defense up a couple of notches, holding the Warriors without a field goal over the last five minutes and forced them into 12 straight misses.

#2 - - Contain NR's Two Primary Scorers:
Entering the contest, Nansemond River wings Devon Oakley and Scott Spencer combined for over 35 points per game. Heritage focused its defensive attention on the pair, both of whom went cold in the second half.

"We've been working on our defense all week and tried to take away their two main guys," revealed White. "Our main goal was to limit those two scorers and keep them off the boards, and I think we achieved that goal tonight."

Although Heritage surprisingly got out-rebounded 45-33 by Nansemond River (credit Branch's 16 boards for the main reason why), Oakley and Spencer were a combined 10-for-30 from the field. They totaled 22 points with Spencer scoring in single-digits for the first time this season.

To make matters worse for the Warriors, Oakley missed on each of his three-point tries and Spencer failed to get to the free-throw line once.

"I credit Mello Anderson, Marcus Van Hook, Michael Duncan, Justin Fauntleroy and those guys. They did an all-around good job," said Gardner. "Even Malik was over there from time to time because we wanted to switch up things."

#3 - - Outside Shooting:
Admittedly, the Achilles heel or weakness of the Heritage basketball team through the first chunk of the season was their inept outside shooting. In several games they didn't make a three-pointer, and the absence of injured guards Duncan and Jermaine Marrow made it even harder for them to convert from beyond the arc.

On Friday night, Heritage had no trouble against the zone defense of the Warriors, draining a season-high six three-pointers - - three by the aforementioned Duncan - - and shot a blistering 5-of-7 from long distance in the first half. Their previous high for 3's in a game was five, which they matched before the third quarter even began.

"Bang," Gardner chirped. The Hurricanes' Head Coach was confident that eventually they would show the ability to knock down the outside jumpers and they finally did in a crucial conference clash.

Meanwhile, the Warriors were 0-for-8 from behind the arc in what was their worst perimeter shooting outing of the campaign. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Heritage being +18 from three-point land was enormous in the 15-point victory, especially after being minus 21 in that category just six days prior in a win over Petersburg in the Sixth Annual VirginiaPreps.com Classic Presented by Cox Sports. That's marked improvement.

Postgame Audio with Heritage Coach Mike Gardner

Final Stats:

Heritage Hurricanes 70: (12-3; 4-0)
Corey White - - 20Pts. (14Pts. 2nd Half), 10-12FG, 7Reb.
Romello Anderson - - 13Pts. 4-12FG, 5-6FT, 7Reb. 3Ast. 3Stl.
Troy Gibson - - 11Pts. 4-8FG, 3-5FT, 8Reb.
Michael Duncan - - 9Pts. 3-7 3's, 2Reb.
Malik Marrow - - 7Pts. 3-9FG, 10Ast. 3Stl.

Nansemond River Warriors 55: (14-2; 3-1)
Devon Oakley - - 14Pts. 6-17FG, 0-6 3's, 2-4FT, 8Reb. 3Ast. 2Stl.
Marvin Branch - - 13Pts. 6-10FG, 16Reb. 3Stl.
Scott Spencer - - 8Pts. 4-13FG, 10Reb. 2Ast. 2Blk. 2Stl.
Daniel Wallace - - 4Pts. 2-5FG, 6Reb. 3Blk.

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 [email protected], 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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