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February 21, 2014

Landstown Completes Sweep of Tallwood

6A-South Conference 1 Tournament Championship:
Final - - #1 Landstown 45, #2 Tallwood 40

Down most of the game, the Landstown Eagles dug in defensively and held the Tallwood Lions to just five points during the fourth quarter to rally for a 45-40 victory in the 6A-South Conference 1 Tournament Championship at the Norfolk Scope on Thursday night.

"It's always tough when you've got to sit your go-to guy and he didn't play a minute in the second quarter. That's always a difficult thing and we couldn't find a rhythm for a while in that second quarter. I always tell them as long as you play defense, you've always got a chance," commented Landstown Head Basketball Coach Dwight Robinson. "We never let them get too far ahead where they were out of reach, so I felt pretty good at half going in only down three."

That go-to guy, 6-foot-8 junior center and Player of the Year candidate Darius Bolstad, didn't have a single point or rebound in the first half while sitting on the bench most of the time with two fouls. He made his presence felt in the second half, especially on defense. Bolstad ended up with nine points, five rebounds and three blocks.

Landstown actually led 15-11 after one quarter of play, converting 6-of-10 from the field. Things changed drastically in the second period as the Eagels missed 13 consecutive shots before a basket with 14 seconds left in the half. However, Tallwood didn't exactly capitalize in gaining only a 23-20 lead, which they managed to extend to as many as five in the third quarter on consecutive three-pointers from Isaiah Vaughan and Tyler Peterson.

The Eagles knew what adjustments they had to make, and it mostly boiled down to making the hustle plays and being more aggressive.

"It was all about executing, getting rebounds and playing harder on defense," said Landstown junior wing Roderick 'R.J.' Nicholson. "It all starts on the defensive end and that's what gets the job done. "This was just another game for us and another day at the office."

Peterson, the Lions' leading scorer on the night with 18 points, tied the score with 57.6 seconds left on a three-pointer, the fifth of the night for Tallwood. Landstown would answer by making 5-of-6 at the foul line in the final 55 seconds, also aided by a pair of steals from Nicholson and senior guard Brandon Pringle.

Since a 61-57 loss to Battlefield in the Sixth Annual VirginiaPreps.com Classic Presented by Cox Sports in a game where the Eagles led by 10 in the third quarter, Landstown has reeled off 11 straight wins. No opponent has scored more than 47 points on them during the stretch.

"That was a wake-up game for us. Big-time wake-up game," Nicholson admitted.

For Landstown (20-4), the path to a state title in 6A begins with a regional playoff home game against Kecoughtan, the #2 seed from the Monitor-Merrimac Conference 2 with a record of 17-7 overall. Three of those losses have come against Woodside, ranked #1 in the state in 6A and the team that Tallwood will open up against on Monday.

"We've got to be able to come out fast early and jump on them real quick," noted Nicholson of the challenging matchup vs. Kecoughtan. "We kind of waited around on Tallwood, but some games you have that happen. In our next one, we have to start off much better."

Player of the Game: Landstown SF R.J. Nicholson - -
With Bolstad on the bench in the first half, Nicholson served as a integral source of offense for the Eagles with seven points. He ended up with a team-high 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting, and it was his steal on the final offensive possession for Tallwood that secured the win.

"I knew my role was going to increase and I had to step up and get my teammates involved," Nicholson remarked.

Lately, the 6-foot-3 junior has been more of a factor on both ends of the court for the Eagles, something that'll need to continue for them to advance far in the postseason.

"The last Tallwood game and this one, he's played really well," Robinson said of Nicholson. "He actually grew up with all those guys, so maybe it's a little bit something about him that makes him rise to the occasion."

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Supporting Cast Rises to the Occasion: To go with Nicholson, sophomore guard Tyriq Nady proved to be a major catalyst for the Eagles, not just offensively, but defensively as well. Nady ended up with 11 points, eight in the first half, and made 7-of-9 at the free-throw line.

Off the bench, 6-foot-4 junior forward Eric Watson made a pair of field goals in the first half to quiet Tallwood's energetic crowd. With Bolstad held to single-digits and another starter finishing scoreless, those contributions were critical.

"I've said it all along that we're not a one-man show. Even though Darius is our go-to guy, other guys on this team can play," Robinson noted. "We've got plenty of guys who can put the ball in the hole. When it was their turn to step up, they stepped up. We didn't have any doubt on who was going to step up, when they were going to step up. We've got full confidence in any of the guys we put in the game."

#2 - - Clamp Down in the 4thQ:
One of the trademarks of the Landstown program for many years as they've averaged 22 wins per season over the past five is their ability to make opponents succumb to the various defensive traps and presses that they utilize. This year's team has some new faces on it and several underclassmen filling integral roles.

Robinson was asked in December if they were close to performing at the end of that court where he wants. The answer was no. On the year, his Eagles are holding foes to 44.7 points per game and just 41.7PPG during the 11-game win streak. Has his answer changed?

"We're getting close. Tonight, we switched up quite a few things throughout the game and we were holding onto our full-court press at the end when the game was tight. We really wanted to speed them up a bit," he replied.

"They were looking a little too comfortable and we thought they were a little tired. I knew that we had a little bit fresher legs because we rotated more guys than they did. We're not quite there yet, but this is the right time to be getting there."

Tallwood shot just 2-of-8 from the field in the fourth quarter.

#3 - - Value Possessions Late:
Although Landstown shot 0-for-6 from three-point territory, they were able to prevail yet again by making their possessions in the fourth quarter count.

"We don't concern ourselves with three-point goals. We actually don't take that many of them. Two-point goals are just as good," Robinson stated. "What we concern ourselves with is playing defense, rebounding the basketball and limiting our turnovers. That's the name of the game; the fundamentals. That's all we care about."

In the closing minutes, the Eagles did those things necessary to win. They out-rebounded Tallwood 7-4 in the game's final quarter, including three offensive rebounds from senior wing Xavier Cooper. Additionally, Landstown only turned it over twice in the fourth quarter compared to five turnovers for Tallwood in the last period, bringing their total to 15 on the night.

Postgame Audio with Landstown Coach Dwight Robinson

Final Stats:

Landstown Eagles 45: (20-4; 12-0)
R.J. Nicholson - - 16Pts. 6-14FG, 4-7FT, 5Reb. 2Stl.
Tyriq Nady - - 11Pts. 2-7FG, 7-9FT, 5Reb. 4Ast. 5Stl.
Darius Bolstad - - 9Pts. 4-6FG, 1-4FT, 5Reb. 3Blk.
Xavier Cooper - - 4Pts. 2-7FG, 7Reb. 3Stl.

Tallwood Lions 40: (17-8; 9-3)
Tyler Peterson - - 18Pts. 5-16FG, 3-9 3's, 5-8FT, 5Reb. 3Stl.
Isaiah Vaughan - - 9Pts. 3-13FG, 1-6 3's, 6Reb.
Will Howard - - 5Pts. 1-3FG, 2-2FT, 5Reb.

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

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