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February 19, 2014
Jayem Wins 67-66 Thriller
Conference 26 Tournament Semifinals:
It had the feel of a State Tournament game from the outset until the final whistle blew. In a battle that featured numerous lead changes and several ties, the John Marshall Justices broke the last tie when senior point guard Quaman Burton sank a free-throw with 2.5 seconds remaining to give his team a 67-66 win that sent the fourth-seeded Armstrong Wildcats home in the Conference 26 Tournament semifinals on Tuesday night at Petersburg High School.
Armstrong, which lost to John Marshall 71-47 back on January 18th at the Lawson Classic at Virginia State University, came in ranked #8 in the state in Group 3A and was trying to avoid being eliminated by the Justices for the second straight year. Last season, John Marshall beat the Wildcats in the Central Region Tournament semifinals, denying them a berth to the State Playoffs.
This time, Armstrong battled back from a seven-point deficit with 2:48 to play to knot the score when Kevon Cooley raced up the court for a deuce, followed by fellow senior guard Robert Valentine scoring after the Wildcats stole the inbound pass. But a reach-in foul during a scrum for the ball on the floor sent John Marshall to the foul line for a pair of free-throws to keep the game from going to overtime.
"It was back-and-forth the entire game. Those guys had a great game-plan, executed to the fullest and Coach [Darryl] Watts and his staff did a phenomenal job," remarked a relieved John Marshall Head Coach Ty White afterwards.
"The closeness, togetherness and one of the words we have on our practice uniforms and game uniforms is family. Those guys tonight showed it from the beginning to the end. When things get tight, they're going to stick together regardless. It's not my most talented team, but it's by far my best team in regards to togetherness and caring for each other."
John Marshall, which fell to Henrico in last year's AAA State Championship, starts only one senior in its lineup in Burton. On the night, he approached triple-double numbers with 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, plus provided crucial plays defensively as well.
"Quaman Burton is a guy we say has a tool belt. He can do it for us in so many different ways, from scoring to rebounding. His leadership is unparalleled to anyone in the state of Virginia," commented White. "I've been around a lot of kids, coached a lot of kids and this kid's leadership is unreal. He refused to let his team lose tonight."
Burton's basket with 1:11 remaining made it to a two-possession game at 63-58. Three missed free-throws by the Justices in the final 40 seconds nearly cost them, but Armstrong committed 19 turnovers for the game, six in the fourth quarter and none stung more than their one with 31.6 seconds left that allowed John Marshall to back to the charity stripe to increase the lead to four.
Operating against Armstrong's 3-2 and 2-3 zone defenses, the Justices opened up a 22-16 lead early in the second quarter. The Wildcats were able to turn John Marshall over 11 times in the first half and took a 29-28 lead into intermission with their combo of Valentine and Cooley combining for 21 points.
"That's what happens when you get a bunch of Team Loaded guys on the other team. It's the way you expect it," joked White. "If you're going to win a state title, you have to win games like this. It's going to be a journey. Coach Blackwell told the guys before we left the locker room at half-time, 'see you at practice tomorrow.'"
White's Justices, ranked #2 in the state currently in Group 3A, moves to 17-4 overall and secured a regional playoff berth. They await the winner of the George Wythe/Hopewell semifinal that'll be played on Wednesday night, set to face whoever emerges from that contest in the Conference 26 Championship.
Armstrong, who beat Thomas Jefferson of Richmond in the quarterfinals of the conference tourney, saw its season end at 16-6 overall.
Valentine did just about everything imaginable to keep his team in the game and have a chance to win. On the night, he finished up with 33 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, made 11-of-12 from the foul line and consistently made big shots, showing that he can put the ball on the floor now better than he has in the past to increase his scoring ability as well as separation from the defender.
In the fourth quarter with the game on the line, Valentine didn't get stage fright at all and embraced the moment. Of Armstrong's 18 fourth quarter points, 13 were scored by him, earning plenty of praise from the opposing coaching staff.
"He was clutch, tough, great kid, love his effort," stated White. "[Valentine] and Cooley are warriors. Both of those guys fought all the way until the end and trying to do their best to keep their team alive."
#1 - - Sniper Sheppard: One of John Marshall's best players all season long has been sophomore guard Jeremy Sheppard, who holds offers already from Hampton University and Mount St. Mary's. His perimeter shooting proved to be an enormous asset against the speedy, athletic Wildcats.
Coming into Wednesday night's game, Sheppard had made 75 three-pointers and was averaging 19.1 points per game. Eclipsing his average, he scored 21 points on 5-of-10 shooting from long distance. Three of those long range makes were in the second half.
In addition to his sterling outside shooting, Sheppard provided some pivotal plays defensively, coming up with a team-high four steals that turned into points at the other end on a couple of occasions.
"He's clever, witty and his anticipation is unreal," White said. "He's calm [and] poised."
Armstrong shot 2-for-9 from long distance for the game. In fact, their only player that connected on a three-pointer was Valentine.
Sheppard made the Justices +9 in three-point shooting for the game. And in a tilt that came down to the final possession that mattered a great deal.
Seven of those offensive boards were yanked down by junior 6-foot-8 forward Nate Williams, who holds offers from Hampton University and Campbell.
"Nate Williams gave us everything. He told us he was going to get us a double-double and he was right there," remarked White.
Marshall Justices 67: (17-4 Overall)
Wildcats 66: (16-6 Overall)
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@example.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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