Unbeaten Spotswood holds off Handley
Posted: December 31, 2012
Special to The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — A game that pitted two teams that figure to do well in Group AA, Division 3 boys basketball this season came down to the wire on Saturday night.
Trailing by three points to unbeaten Spotswood in the final seconds, Handley called a timeout to set up one final play. Once they inbounded the ball, it came as no surprise who the Judges placed their hopes on to drain a game-tying 3-pointer.
Handley senior guard Jake Rudolph, already with four made 3-pointers, received a handoff and rushed to the right corner. He pulled up, shoulders square, and launched his shot from behind the arc.
The shot rimmed in and out and the buzzer blared, as Spotswood held on to beat Handley 79-76 at Maddex-Omps Gymnasium in the Handley Holiday Tournament.
“We told them in the huddle that it was going to [Rudolph], and you’ve got to admire that kid’s courage," Spotswood coach Chad Edwards said. “We tried to limit his touch and they ran a little handoff play, and I thought it was more of a specific screen. He was able to get a look and that thing was halfway in and out. I feel bad for him, but I admire his courage. One night after [Rudolph suffered] a broken nose and he hadn’t had surgery yet, and he bothered us.”
One of three Judges to reach double-digit scoring, Rudolph, who fractured his nose late in the first half of Friday’s win over Harrisonburg, did not seem bothered by the face-shield he wore against the Blazers. Rudolph (14 points) popped in three 3-pointers in the first half to help Handley take a 44-39 lead and was still looking to score late in the game.
The Judges found other players willing to score in the first half when Spotswood decided to put much of its attention on center Cameron Jackson, who took just three shots and scored eight points in the first 16 minutes. Jason Morgan came off the bench to score all nine of his points in the first half, and starting guard Buster Wigley stepped up big throughout the game to put in 12 points.
Once Jackson was able to free up better around the basket in the second half and score 12 points to finish up with team bests of 20 points and 13 rebounds, the Judges were able to keep competing.
Jackson often saw triple-teams whenever he got the ball down on the low block, and without his scoring early, the Judges could not establish their strengths inside.
“We didn’t get our big guys involved enough,” Handley coach Tommy Dixon said. “I think Cameron came through at the end and got us back in it. We just didn’t get anybody cutting to the basket [when Jackson saw triple-teams]. We were standing and watching him. But we’ll learn from this.”
Spotswood savored the challenge it got from the Judges. The Blazers (11-0) were always close, but saw Handley control the lead from the 3:16 mark of the first period until 4:29 left in the fourth quarter. Handley would regain the lead, but Spotswood would be able to come away with the win at the end because it did one thing a lot better in the clutch than did the Judges: make free throws.
The Blazers entered the fourth period trailing 61-57, but a baseline drive and-one with four seconds left in the third by senior forward Hyrum Weiler had been a boost for Spotswood and gave an indication of good things to come for the Blazers in the last eight minutes.
The play of Weiler, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half and also finished with team-bests of nine rebounds and three steals, would prove crucial for Spotswood when junior guard Tucker McCoy (21 points) was held to eight points and one made basket in the second half. Just as important would be the production of senior forward Austin Nicely, who scored a game-high 30 points (11 of 12 from the field and 8 of 12 on free throws) and balanced his points well throughout the game.
“We don’t just have one, key, main [scoring] option — we’ve got two or three main option type of players,” Edwards said. “Then all the way down to our eighth, ninth, tenth, and even 11th guy, this is the most balanced and deepest team I have coached.”
Not being able to put the game away in the second half left some concerns for Dixon.
“We gave a good effort, but there are still some things we need to do better,” Dixon said. “We never changed defenses. We’ve got to be able to change defenses and give people different looks. We stayed in a half-court man-to-man, and that’s rare for us to do. There were too many times when we were turning people loose, and we just can’t do that.”
The Blazers kept chipping away late, and a McCoy free throw with 4:29 left got Spotswood over the top with a 68-67 lead. The lead then changed hands five times, the fifth coming after Rudolph knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:52 left for a 74-72 Handley lead.
Not long after, Rudolph was called for a questionable technical foul, and McCoy hit two free throws to tie the game and give the ball to Spotswood.
The Judges then had a chance to regain the lead and even build on it, but missed five of six free throws. Handley senior Darion Robinson made a free throw with 1:14 left to send Handley back up by one, but Nicely’s stickback with 1:02 left sent the Blazers up 76-75, and Spotswood had the ball again when Robinson stepped in for a steal and headed up-court.
Robinson appeared the be fouled hard near the basket, but no intentional foul was called. Robinson was able to make one of two with 24.2 seconds left to tie the game one last time.
Just seven seconds later, Robinson was called for an intentional foul (which would be his fifth) on Weiler. Spotswood then took a 78-76 lead when Weiler, who was 5 of 6 at the line in the fourth, made both of his free throws. Still with possession, Weiler added another free throw with 13.1 seconds left for a three-point lead. Three timeouts followed, including two by Handley, before the Judges got one final chance to tie and came up short.
Edwards was glad that his team, which averages 79.5 points and has had only one other win decided by less than 10 points, got a test from Handley (8-2).
“It was a great game between two good teams,” Edwards said. “We have tremendous respect for Handley. I told the guys afterward ‘Now, we’re truly battle-tested.’ We try to schedule good teams and our margin has been pretty big [20.2] in most of our wins. Tonight we were battle-tested in terms of a one-possession game, nip-and-tuck, against a quality opponent on the road. And I really think that is going to help us for our district schedule.”
Spotswood went a long way toward staying unbeaten and picking up a quality road win by finishing plus-11 in made free throws. Spotswood hit on 24 of 36 in the game, while Handley shot poorly in the fourth, missing nine out of 11 after starting 11 of 13.
“I would agree that the strength of our [team] is free throw shooting, for sure,” Edwards said. “Tonight might have been our worst percentage [66.7] night of the season. But when it meant the most at the end, we were able to make ours. [Handley] shot a very high percentage early and missed some at the end.”
The Judges struggled not only with making free throws late but also keeping their top players from foul difficulties. Robinson, who missed Friday’s game with a sore ankle, returned and was hardly a factor, picking up two fouls in the first half and missing quality minutes, getting a third early in the third quarter and returning to the bench, and picking up his fourth and fifth in the last quarter. He finished with just seven points, two rebounds, and one block.
Jackson also picked up two first-half fouls and had to come out for a few minutes. He would finish with four fouls, as did Rudolph. Still, others picked up their play and kept Handley in the running.
The Judges enjoyed an early 9-2 run, capped by Morgan’s jumper in the lane when Handley pushed the ball up, to lead 16-12 with 2:53 left. With six players scoring early, Handley took a 23-21 lead after one. The good play continued well into the second period, with the Judges scoring 11 of the first 15 points. Jackson got his first two baskets and Wigley got hard to the basket off a baseline drive for a 34-25 Handley lead with 4:17 left.
A 3-pointer by Rudolph gave Handley its largest lead (10 points) at 37-27 with 3:34 left before Spotswood got on a roll and closed to 39-38 with 1:06 left after Nicely scored off an inbounds play.
Rudolph hit another 3-pointer, and a pull-up in the lane by Morgan with 11 seconds left gave Handley its five-point lead at the half.
Spotswood then turned it around in the second half, with Nicely, Weiler, and McCoy combining to score all 40 of their team’s points after the break.
The Judges also got a game-high eight assists from junior guard Tre Brown and Handley’s bench outscored Spotswood’s reserves 20-0.