Gents take down SU in tourney final
Posted: November 17, 2012
Special to The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — It was a sweet homecoming for Centenary College coach Adam Walsh, a 1997 graduate of James Wood High School.
His Gents used depth, tenacious team defense, and 23 points from guard Jonathan Blount to upend Shenandoah University 80-69 for the championship in the 2012 BB&T Tip-Off Classic Friday.
“I really hated to do that to Shenandoah,” Walsh said. “I’m a hometown guy and Shenandoah is our hometown team. I want to support them. But it was the first opportunity for me to come home, and it was the first time my grandfather had ever seen me coach. It was a special night.”
It looked like anything but an 11-point victory for Centenary early in the contest. Both teams began the game with an intense defensive effort that made the score more like a baseball game than basketball.
It took nearly four minutes before the Hornet guard Bryce Mitchell finally put the first points on the board with a layup. Mitchell’s shot gave Shenandoah the lead, and they kept it through the first 10 minutes of the game.
It was never a big lead though, since neither team seemed to be able to penetrate the other’s defense. Although the Hornets jumped ahead early 10-5, the Gents fought back to tie the score 10-10 with 12 minutes to play in the first half.
Shenandoah, however, responded with an amazing 4-point play by Jared Carithers to put the Hornets back ahead. When the Gents tied the score again 18-18, Mitchell responded immediately and the Hornets took the lead again.
For the next three minutes that pattern continued, but with 7:48 left in the half and the Hornets leading 23-21, three costly fouls by Shenandoah gave Centenary seven free-throw shots.
“We made three turnovers to begin the game,” Walsh said. “We needed to calm down. Doing that was the first piece of the puzzle. We weren’t making good decisions early, but about halfway through the first half, we started to make better decisions, and our bench, particularly our guards, were able to control the game.”
The Gents responded by making 6 of their 7 shots from the free-throw line to take a 27-23 lead, and they never trailed again.
“It was a tough game, but our guys gritted it out,” Blount said. “It was a great team effort all around. The guys on the bench gave us some big minutes.”
While Centenary continued to play doggedly on defense, the Hornets were unable to sustain the play on the defensive end. The result was a 15-4 run by the Gents over the final seven minutes of the half, giving them a commanding 42-27 lead at halftime.
“The difference in this game was defense,” Blount said. “We knew that we had to pick it up. Our press also threw them off a little bit. I don’t think they were expecting it. That helped jump-start our offense.”
Two phases of the game allowed Centenary to pull ahead at the half. The Gents hit four of their nine 3-point attempts compared to Shenandoah’s 3-of-11 shooting from beyond the line. Centenary also took advantage of their trip to the free-throw line, hitting 14 of 16 while the Hornets were just 4 of 8.
Blount was Centenary’s primary offensive weapon in the first half, scoring 19 of his 23 points in the first 20 minutes.
The second half proved to be more of the same as the Gents began the half with a 5-3 run, and eventually pushed ahead 56-37 midway through the second half.
“We got in a little foul trouble and we had to play some of our guys a lot more than we intended to,” Hornet coach Rob Pryor said. “We started missing shots, and they started making theirs. The intensity was there to begin the game. We had unbelievable energy to start the game, but when our guys began to get a little tired, they gained on us.”
To Shenandoah’s credit, despite the lopsided score, the Hornets fought hard until the final whistle to get back into the game. With five minutes to play and trailing 64-48, Shenandoah rattled off six straight points to cut the deficit to 10 at 64-54. The effort, however, proved to be too little, too late.
Mitchell led the Hornets with 14 points. Carithers also scored in double figures with 13 points, and Shaquille Rodney had 10 for Shenandoah.
“We just need to come to practice and work harder,” Mitchell said. “The guys that don’t play much need to push the guys that do play, and the guys that play need to push the guys who don’t play. We’re not pushing each other in practice, and when we get into the game it’s a whole new level, and we’re not ready for it.”
Besides Blount, Caden Cheramie contributed 16 points for the Gents.
“It was worth the 19-hour drive to get here from Louisiana,” Blount said. “We got the win, the trophy, and most of the hardware. It’s going to be a fun drive home.”
Goucher College defeated Patrick Henry 96-38 in the first game.