Title shot on the line: Handley faces Glen Allen in 4A state semifinals
WINCHESTER — Up to now the postseason has been pretty comfortable for the Handley boys’ basketball team.
Thanks to a first-place finish in the Northwestern District and a 15-2 regular season record, the Judges landed the top seed in the Conference 23 Tournament and a first-round bye.
Back-to-back home wins clinched the conference title and another top seed, this time in the 4A North Region Tournament.
And three more wins on their home court, including a 66-59 victory over George Washington-Danville in the finals a week ago, secured their second straight region championship.
Five games, five wins, all within the friendly confines of Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.
The perfect playoff run has Handley back in the state semifinals for the first time since 2000, but if the Judges want to keep their streak alive they’re going to have to do so from the road.
Handley (20-2) will head down I-81 today to face 4A South Region runner-up Glen Allen (17-10) in the Group 4A state semifinals at 1 p.m. at James Madison University’s Convocation Center.
And though it won’t be the same as playing in their own gym — where they went 12-0 this season — the Judges are planning on making themselves at home at JMU.
“We know our fans will travel, they always support us no matter how far we have to go,” said Handley coach Jason Toton. “You always see the Handley faithful and supporters out. We’ve had a great turnout so far in the postseason and we expect that to continue.”
Handley has certainly given its fans plenty of reason to turn out and cheer them on.
The Judges have beaten their five playoff opponents by an average of 15.6 points per game and have done so in impressive fashion, especially early on.
Looking to set the tone right from the opening tip, Handley has raced out to leads of 37-15 (against Carroll County), 22-4 (against Loudoun County) and 25-9 (against GW-Danville) in the first half of its last three games.
Those big leads have allowed the Judges to control the game from the outset, something they would love to continue against Glen Allen today.
Only in their third year with a varsity program, this is the Jaguars’ first appearance in the state tournament.
After finishing the regular season with a 12-9 record Glen Allen wasn’t expected to make a deep run in the postseason, but coach Ryan Stein feels his team benefited greatly from a tough schedule.
“Our schedule during the year is an absolute beast,” Stein said. “We play the old Capital District [in Richmond] and face Henrico twice, Highland Springs twice, both of whom were state champions in Group [AAA] the last few years. We’ve had at least nine games against the top 10 teams throughout the Richmond area.”
The Jaguars won five straight playoff games themselves before falling to I.C. Norcom 52-46 in the 4A South Region finals and have shown their defensive chops, holding their six postseason opponents to just 49.5 points per game.
Glen Allen is led by 6-foot-4 junior Grayson Midulla, the Conference 20 Player of the Year, who averages 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists per game.
“Grayson is a do-it-all type player. He’s a shooting guard and just a hard worker,” Stein said. “We usually ask him to guard the other team’s best player and he’s our high scorer, so he does a little bit of everything for us.”
Helping Midulla out usually is 5-foot-10 senior TreShawn Blackston (14 points, five steals and three assists per game) and 6-foot-1 senior Collin Dwyer, who Stein said averages just under 10 rebounds per.
“They’re a very disciplined basketball team that seems to have a very high basketball IQ and is well-coached,” said Toton about the Jaguars. “They’re not going to make a lot of mistakes.
“From what I’ve seen and heard they’re not the type of team that’s going to run up and down the floor. They’re athletic, but they’re not GW-Danville athletic. They’re offense kind of runs through [Midulla] and they’ve got some shooters, but not much inside.”
That could spell trouble for the Jaguars, who must figure out a way to stop Handley 6-foot-8 senior center Cameron Jackson.
The Northwestern District, Conference 23 and 4A North Region Player of the Year, Jackson is averaging 18.4 points, 10 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game this season.
Fellow senior Solomon Finley, who poured in a game-high 23 points against GW-Danville, is no slouch at 14 points per game, senior point guard Tre’ Brown is dishing out five assists per game and senior Jason Morgan (9.8 points) and junior KeSean Robinson (8.2 points) give the Judges plenty of offensive options.
Stein said it will take a group effort to try and stop Jackson, but he stressed that his team can’t allow Handley’s perimeter players to get going.
“I think one of the biggest factors is their three outstanding guards,” Stein said. “In order for us to be successful we have to do a good job on Finley, make things uncomfortable for him, and we have to do a good job of disrupting Brown who runs the show for them.
“And then Morgan comes off the bench and can score for them, so we have to take his jump shot away and make him drive to the basket. We have to make sure we take those three guards away.”
One of the things Toton is hoping will work in Handley’s favor is the familiarity with the venue.
Although the Judges haven’t had much luck of late playing at JMU — they lost to Bruton in the state quarterfinals there last year — they do have experience playing in the bigger gym and even practiced at Eastern Mennonite University earlier this week to get a feel for shooting at baskets with open space behind them.
One factor that could hinder the Judges is a bug that’s working its way through the team and has caused some players to miss school this week.
But everyone is expected to be able to play today and the Judges are confident they can continue their postseason run, even without the home-court advantage they’ve grown accustomed to.
“It’s only an hour down the road, so we want to treat it as a home game,” Toton said. “I told the kids that we’re 12-0 at home this season and we want to make it 13-0.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1