Handley boys beat Vikings for regional title, 58-47
PURCELLVILLE — The public address announcer at the Loudoun Valley High School gymnasium requested that everyone sit as close together as possible so there wouldn’t be people standing in the baseline area, but it was obvious that too many people had come to make that a reality.
The Handley fans who arrived in droves were a big reason for the over-capacity attendance, but still, it wasn’t their gym.
Those weren’t their students that began standing 20 minutes before the game, those weren’t their band members ready to respond to big plays, that wasn’t their guy set up in the corner with a drum set.
Simply put, Loudoun County’s fans were ready to blow their own roof off with noise Saturday night. But because of a Handley team that knows something about playing big games on the road, it was their fans that got to do all the critical early cheering — and that ultimately led to their loudest roar of all upon the game’s conclusion.
Fourth-seeded Handley scored 19 of the game’s first 23 points, then never led by fewer than five in beating No. 3 Loudoun Valley, the Dulles District co-regular season champs and tournament champs, 58-47 in the Region II, Division 3 final.
The Northwestern District tournament champs won their first regional title since 2009.
“It feels really good,” said 6-foot-8 junior center Cameron Jackson (16 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks), one of several key contributors on the Handley team that lost in last year’s Region II, Division 3 final to Fluvanna County at the Flucos’ packed gym. “To come back and play the way we have since we lost to Millbrook feels really good.”
The Judges (21-4), who won their ninth straight game since falling to the Pioneers on Jan. 26, will now face Region I runner-up Bruton in the Group AA, Division 3 quarterfinals on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at James Madison University. Loudoun Valley (25-4) will face Brunswick in the quarterfinals.
Going into the state quarterfinals as a regional champion is preferable to last season, when after losing their regional final the Judges then had to travel to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond for a state quarterfinal game against 2011 state champion Brunswick, which beat Handley and went on to defend its title.
“We knew we didn’t want to lose that regional final like we did last year,” said senior guard Jake Rudolph (14 points). “That was a bad spot, having to go to VCU to play Brunswick.
“But that wasn’t our main focus. Our main focus was just take care of business and do what we had to do. We’re not scared of anybody. So we just had to come out here and make a statement, and I think that we did, starting the game on that big run.”
Handley’s play at the outset was indeed a sight to behold.
Though Loudoun Valley starts three players between 6-5 and 6-7, none of those three are as thick and powerful as Jackson, who made four of his first five shots and scored nine points in helping the Judges to that 19-4 lead with 44 seconds to play in the first quarter. (Handley led 19-6 after the first quarter.)
Rudolph added seven points in that run, including two of his three 3-pointers, the first of which was from NBA-range.
The Judges ran their offense well in the first quarter, but Judges coach Tommy Dixon was most impressed with a defense that helped Handley get out in transition. Loudoun Valley made just 2 of 9 shots in the first quarter and 17 of 52 (32.6 percent) for the game.
After stopping on a dime to let a defender fly by, Jackson screamed after laying in a shot while being fouled, this after taking a long pass following a Handley steal. His ensuing free throw made it 12-2 just 3:17 into the game.
“We helped out, we closed out on the shooters, we rebounded the ball, we did a lot of things that we’ve been trying to get them to do all year,” said Dixon of the defense and overall first-quarter play.
The Vikings didn’t panic, and they did slowly claw their way back into the game, closing to within 27-19 at halftime and 38-33 on a layup from Jovon Miller (11 points) with 1:12 to go in the third quarter, which had the Vikings fans in a frenzy.
But Tre Brown — whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer lifted Handley past Western Albemarle in the regional semis — buried a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to make it 41-33 and set off an even louder roar from Handley.
It was the junior guard’s second-and-last basket of the night, and it was huge. It kick-started a 13-2 run for Handley over a nearly five-minute stretch in which the Judges picked up their aggressiveness, and the Vikings never made another serious run at Handley.
Coming into the postseason Brown’s best work on offense had usually come with ball distribution (team-high 4.6 assists), but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that opponents need to start worrying about his shooting.
“Tre’s a streaky shooter, and we know if he’s open, he’s going to knock it down,” Rudolph said. “We got him the ball and he knocked that shot down. That’s why we’re so dangerous — there’s not one person on this team that can’t go out there and score.”
For Handley, Darion Robinson added 13 points (nine in the second half) and Solomon Finley had 10.
All of Handley’s players can defend, too, and Dixon gave a lot of credit to what Rudolph did on that end Saturday.
Loudoun Valley’s fans went wild when it was announced that first-team All-Dulles guard Josh Grimard, who stands 6-6, had scored his 1,000th point on a 3-pointer with 3:01 left. Problem was, that gave the player averaging 16 points per game only seven points on a night that saw him go up mostly against Rudolph.
“[Grimard] had to work for everything he got, and I take my hat off to Jake,” Dixon said. “We’ve always said, ‘Jake, you’ll never be a defender,’ but I think he proved he can do it tonight, He did a great job.”
Loudoun Valley coach Chad Dawson got 23 points from 6-7 forward Paul Rowley, but not much else from the rest of his team in what he felt was one of their worst games this season.
“I think they beat us in every phase of the game,” said Dawson, whose team didn’t make the stops they needed in man or zone defense. “Maybe it’s what they did to us, but we just didn’t play well. Maybe it was their pressure, maybe it was their height that made us miss some opportunities [to score], I don’t know. We just didn’t seem like we were the team we had been playing like.”
On the flip side, Handley’s playing like a well-oiled machine.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Dixon said. “Ten, 12 games ago, I didn’t think we’d be here, and it’s simply because we didn’t work hard.
“They’re working hard right now. I think they realize the next game we get to go home, and that’s what’s important to us. We want to keep playin’ and playin’ and playin’, and regional champion is something they can all be proud of. They’ve earned that. The last couple of weeks we’ve really played some good basketball.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.com
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