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March 3, 2014

Wakefield Beats Potomac, Wins 5A-North

5A-North Region Tournament Championship:
Final - - #1 Wakefield 70, #1 Potomac 66

For the first time this season, someone was able to beat the Potomac Panthers. All year long, they've been ranked #1 in the state of Virginia in Group 5A and labeled as the favorite to hoist the State Championship trophy in March. However, on the first day of the month, they fell to 26-1 overall as the Wakefield Warriors edged them, 70-66 in the 5A-North Region Championship in front of a packed to capacity crowd in Arlington.

"We came into this game and had no pressure on us. The pressure was on them because they were undefeated. We just played our basketball," stated Marqua Walton of Wakefield, which has now won 14 in a row after a 10-4 start to the season.

Although it was not an elimination game since both teams had already clinched berths to the State Tournament, each squad treated it like it was do-or-die. The back-and-forth battle consisted of 22 lead changes, nine coming in the fourth quarter alone as the two title contenders traded big plays down the stretch.

Wakefield (24-4) survived the first quarter with star junior center Dominique Tham, named the 5A-North Region Player of the Year to go with his Capitol Conference Player of the Year award, picked up two early fouls. They went ahead by four late in the opening period on a coast-to-coast lay-up from senior wing Re'Quan Hopson, who was coming off a career-high 29 points vs. Broad Run in the regional semifinals.

As expected, Potomac responded. Despite George Mason signee Trey Porter picking up his third foul at the 1:43 mark of the second quarter, the Panthers outscored Wakefield 19-11 during the third period. That gave Potomac a 47-45 advantage going into the final stanza.

Porter finished up with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting along with six rebounds and four blocks. Fellow senior Randy Haynes, the Conference 15 Player of the Year, scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half to go with seven rebounds.

With the Panthers poised to pull away up four with six minutes to play, Wakefield never blinked. The Warriors got the ball inside to Tham when they needed to, and consistently found ways to get to the free-throw line. Walton scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and twice Tham scored with under two minutes to play to give the Warriors the lead, doing so for good with 27 seconds remaining.

"Basically, we told our kids when they punch us in the face and black our eye, then we have to punch them n the nose and bloody it," remarked Wakefield Head Basketball Coach Tony Bentley, whose team is making its second straight trip to the State Playoffs.

"I've been in this same situation like Potomac, undefeated in 2005; we were 26-0 going into the regional Championship [and] pulled it out. No matter what happens, we're still playing next week. Let's go out and have some fun. They're bigger. One-on-one, they're probably better. But as a team, we're pretty tough. I'm excited for the guys to not back down."

Potomac will travel to the 5A-South Region Championship, which will either be Maury or Henrico. Those two teams face off now on Tuesday night at Churchland High School in Portsmouth. If Maury wins, the Panthers will play them at ODU. If Henrico wins, they'll square off at VCU. Wakefield plays the loser of Maury/Henrico on March 8th at Noon at Robinson.

Player of the Game: Wakefield G Jalen Carver - - Any one of about four players could get the nod here for Wakefield, but perhaps the most unexpected offensive boost came courtesy of Carver, the team's fourth leading scorer on the season at 9.9 points per game. Furthermore, he's not really known for his outside shooting with 17 makes coming into the tilt, yet made three critical three-point shots in the first half while Tham sat much of the second quarter in foul trouble.

"I just came out really aggressive," said Carver, a 5-foot-9 senior guard. "The focus was not to be scared. They usually win games off their name, their record and everybody's scared."

On the night, Carver finished with 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, didn't miss a foul shot and matched his season-high for 3's made in a game. With the team down six at intermission, his 12 first half points kept them afloat when a lot of teams might've been sunk vs. Potomac.

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Get Potomac in Foul Trouble: In the second half, Potomac played with Porter, Haynes, Keijon Honore and T.T. Felder all in foul trouble. That's four starters that had to be extra careful in the closing minutes, and Wakefield took advantage at the foul line.

Early in the season, the charity stripe was an area Wakefield was very weak in, but lately they've made their opportunities there count when it matters most this postseason. They made 21-of-25 from the foul line. That included 14-for-15 in the fourth quarter with Walton (their best three-point shooter with 78 3's) going 8-for-9.

But it clear that going at Porter, putting him in foul trouble and making him a bit tentative because of that on the defensive end worked in the Warriors' favor greatly.

"Domo has played against guys size with size before, so I wasn't really worried about that matchup," said Bentley. "I was worried about the Haynes [and] how Re'Quan Hopson would step up and take the challenge."

#2 - - Throw a Wrinkle at Them:
Out of the gate, Wakefield utilized a matchup zone on Potomac and it took the Panthers until midway through the second quarter to really get in a rhythm offensively. The Warriors even flashed a 1-2-2 look in the fourth quarter.

"We couldn't play those guys man-to-man for a full game, so we did something Wakefield never does. We went to a zone. It was effective," stated Bentley. "They got easy buckets, but we had to convert on the other end and I thought we did a good job."

More than anything else, the zone kept Potomac from having its way in the paint or getting to the free-throw line. Wakefield outscored them 18-12 in the paint in the first half. The Panthers were 8-for-11 from the charity stripe for the night, and they ended up shooting 6-for-19 from three-point territory.

#3 - - Get Everyone Involved:
It was far from a one-man show for Wakefield. Tham is the headliner as he and Walton scored 18 apiece. Carver added and Hopson chipped in 11.

Four different starters scored in double-figures for the Warriors, all of them shooting above 50% from the field. In fact, they were a combined 21-for-31. As a group, the Warriors shot 5-for-10 from three-point range.

In crunch time, Wakefield performed like a team that has been there before because, well, they have.

"[Asst.] Coach [Horace] Willis and I have been together for 18-19 years and this is the first time we've had guys come back with experience. These guys were all in the State Tournament last year," Bentley noted.

"They don't care who scores the most points. Our whole motto is it's so amazing what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit. As long we get the W, that's all that matters."

Senior point guard Kyle Davis, a transfer from Washington-Lee in the off-season, helped the Warriors make this Key to Victory possible. Even with only four points, Davis handed out seven assists and the offense never hit a dry spell, something that often dooms teams when they go up against Potomac with their superior size on the front-line.

Final Stats:

Wakefield Warriors 70: (24-4)
Dominique Tham - - 18Pts. 7-11FG, 4-4FT, 9Reb. 3Ast. 3Blk.
Marqua Walton - - 18Pts. 5-7FG, 2-4 3's, 3-4FT, 4Reb. 2Ast.
Jalen Carver - - 17Pts. 5-6FG, 3-4 3's, 4-4FT
Re'Quan Hopson - - 11Pts. 4-7FG, 3-4FT, 4Reb.
Kyle Davis - - 4Pts. 1-4FG, 2-3FT, 5Reb. 7Ast. 4Stl.

Potomac Panthers 66: (26-1)
Trey Porter - - 23Pts. 9-13FG, 5-6FT, 6Reb. 4Blk.
Randy Haynes - - 17Pts. 7-17FG, 3-5FT, 7Reb. 3Ast. 3Stl.
Torrey Dixon - - 13Pts. 5-13FG, 3-9 3's, 2Ast.
T.T. Felder - - 5Pts. 2-4FG, 5Reb. 6Ast.

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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