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March 10, 2014
Bruton Reaches 2A State Final
Group 2A State Tournament Semifinals:
Sometimes even the best of teams get in a rut. That's what happened last Saturday in Norfolk at ODU's Ted Constant Convocation Center for the Bruton Panthers, who started 0-for-19 from the field with 10 turnovers and didn't make their first shot until 1:30 left in the second quarter during their Group 2A State Tournament Semifinal showdown with the Martinsville Bulldogs.
Bruton was able to shake off the slow start and go right by the Martinsville Bulldogs thanks to a flurry of 3's from 5-foot-9 senior point guard Lonnie Swinton. A trio of perimeter makes from Swinton put the Panthers, who trailed 9-2 after one quarter of play, in the lead by a count of 17-15 at intermission. From there, Bruton never looked back and cruised to a 56-36 win over Martinsville to punch their ticket to the State Championship on Saturday at VCU.
"For a little bit, we were frustrated," admitted Bruton senior guard Marcus Carter. "We couldn't hit a shot. We weren't playing our basketball. Usually, we hit a couple 3's here and there. We usually get to the rack and get to the line, but we really couldn't do that the first half. Lonnie hit those three 3's in a row, it got us pumped up."
In a battle between two teams ranked #1 and #2 in the state in 2A in the preseason (Bruton was #1 and Martinsville #2), the offensive highlights were few and far between in the game's opening half. The Martinsville 2-3 zone defense bottled up the Panthers in the early going, and despite numerous chances, the Bulldogs failed to increase their lead as they only shot 37.5% from the field without a three-point make before half-time.
"It was the approach on the 2-3 zone I thought. We were stagnant, looking at it not attacking it and getting inside on that zone, and settled a lot," replied Bruton Head Basketball Coach Joe Dillard when asked what contributed to the sluggish play at the start.
"That hurt us at the beginning. We started moving guys around so we could get the ball inside. With the inside game came the inside-out. That's typically what happens. When we hit 3's good, it's a rhythm thing."
Swinton scored 20 points to lead the Bruton offense with nine of those coming in the 1:30 of the first half on outside bombs. Carter nearly hit his scoring average on the nose, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks as he shook off a cold shooting first half. He scored 15 points after half-time.
For Martinsville, which saw its season end at 20-8 overall and a victory shy of competing for their 14th state title, they were led by 6-foot-7 sophomore center Devonnte Holland and 6-foot-4 senior forward Cameron Turner. Holland recorded a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds while rejecting six shots.
Pushing their win streak to 14 games, Bruton is now 26-1 overall and a victory away from capturing their first state title since 2000 when ex-Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall guided the Panthers to the Championship.
"It's hard to advance from last year. We've gone from six losses, losing the big games, semifinals, to one loss, winning the big games now, finals," remarked Dillard. "It's one more goal left and we hope we execute on that Saturday."
Last season, Bruton fell to Spotswood 70-69 in the Group AA Division 3 State Tournament Semis at VCU in a game where they made 23-of-24 free-throws. They're headed back to Richmond, taking on an undefeated Dan River squad that eliminated reigning three-time State Champ Brunswick in the semis.
"It's kind of like a revenge feeling. You've got to get back and you've got to get back and win," Carter said. "We ended our season last year in the semifinals on that court. This year, we're going to try to end it in a good fashion, not like last year."
"It feels like that was the worst game we had for the first half, but I just tried to help my team the best way I can. I'm here when they need me," Swinton commented. "When I hit that first one, it just felt good, so I knew I was good after that one."
Clearly, Swinton's shooting can be an engine starter for the Panthers. They start defending with more activity and passion when he's hitting shots, and he brings a pinch of pizzazz to the table.
"He builds our rhythm and that sends our defense into overdrive," Dillard noted.
Swinton also grabbed seven rebounds, had two assists, two steals and converted 9-of-11 at the foul line.
#1 - - Make Foul Shots Count: In the first half, Bruton shot an icy cold 17.4% from the field. However, at the free-throw line, they were 6-for-7 (85.7%) and they made a concerted effort to attack the gaps in the 2-3 zone in the second half and draw contact. The Panthers did that rather successfully to build their lead.
Over the final two quarters of play, the Panthers went 17-of-23 from the foul line to finish 23-for-30 there, a very solid 76.7%. The same couldn't be said for Martinsville, which barely shot over 50% by going 9-of-17 on the evening.
From the second quarter on, Bruton did a good job of denying his touches, and then when he did catch the basketball, they crowded his space. They had to turn to a couple of others defending him when JMU football signee Kapri Doucet got in foul trouble.
"We survived the first half with Carter and Daniel Jones only having one and zero fouls. When we saw that, we put both of them on the big," Dillard pointed out. "To limit him to 11 points is pretty good for somebody that's 6-7 and we don't have a 6-3 or 6-4 guy at all. That length of Daniel Jones kicks in and he's doing some things that are really going to help us."
While Bruton is known for its offensive firepower, having eclipsed the 100-point barrier on five occasions this season, their defense is what triggers a lot of their production offensively.
"These guys score, not me," Dillard said. "I'm not an offensive genius. I know how to make defensive adjustments and make plays work on defense. We have a five-man front defensively that does a lot for me."
When Bruton was able to press and speed the game up, that made it hard for Martinsville to keep pace, even though the Bulldogs have been able to score with the best teams in 2A. Bulldogs Coach Jeff Adkins admitted coming in that he didn't want to it to be a fast-paced game, and although it was played in the half-court most of the way, the Panthers imposed their will defensively in the second half.
"Once we get that 22 we have, that full-court press, rolling, it gets us, the bench, coaches and the crowd fired up," Carter pointed out. "It gives us more energy to keep playing. We know once we get a couple steals, the other team starts to get frustrated."
Bruton Panthers 56:
Bulldogs 36: (20-8)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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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