WINCHESTER — Culpeper 6-foot-5 forward Quinton Butler did his best to give the Blue Devils boys’ basketball team a little bit of momentum just before halftime, but Demitri Gardner wasn’t having it.
Butler took the ball from the right side of the floor toward the basket, only to have the 6-foot-5 Gardner rise up and reject the ball with his right hand and give the Judges’ fans even more to scream about as the buzzer sounded.
Handley outscored Culpeper 17-4 over the last five minutes of the first half to take a 17-point halftime lead, and the second-seeded Judges controlled the game from there to defeat the No. 7 Blue Devils 74-43 in the Class 4 Northwestern District quarterfinals on Thursday night at Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.
The Judges (12-11) who ended a three-game losing streak, will take on No. 6 Kettle Run (9-10) at home on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals. The Cougars beat No. 3 James Wood on Thursday 49-45.
Over the last five minutes of the second quarter, Handley held the Blue Devils to 0-for-8 shooting — blocking four of the shots — and took two charges, part of a quarter in which the Judges forced seven turnovers from Culpeper (5-16), which only scored on four free throws in Handley’s decisive run.
The Blue Devils were without two starting guards for the entire second quarter because of foul trouble, including DeJour McCray (12 points, seven in the first half), who went to the bench with his third foul with 1:05 left in the first quarter. Handley coach Jason Toton wanted to see his team pick up its play and take advantage of McCray’s absence.
“At the beginning of the game, they were kind of driving to the basket at will,” Toton said. “We were letting people get in the paint, and we told them they needed to stop letting them do that. I thought we did a better job of that midway through the second quarter.”
Handley led 20-16 before its 17-4 run put the Judges up 37-20 at the half. Matthew Peete and Ethan Schwantes had a couple blocks 30 seconds into the run, and Gardner (team-high 17 points) would add a couple more.
“The last three games we’ve been playing lazy,” Gardner said. “We wanted to come out and make a statement. I like how we were getting after it [in the second quarter].”
The Judges extended their lead to 59-34 after three quarters.
Toton thought the Judges could have been quicker rotating on defensive traps, but he liked the hustle and effort that the Judges displayed to get rebounds. Handley gave itself several second-chance opportunities, and the Judges didn’t let Culpeper have many at all. The Blue Devils made barely a quarter of their shots (14 of 55) and were a woeful 3 of 24 on 3-pointers. Culpeper had 19 turnovers.
“Our main focus tonight was boxing out and being aggressive,” said Toton, who felt his team struggled with those things in its losing streak.
A well-rounded offensive attack also keyed the Judges in the first half, as five players had at least five points. Isaac Menefee provided the biggest boost, hitting two 3-pointers in the final minute. He let a defender fly by after a pump-fake before calmly hitting a 3-pointer with six seconds left in the half from the left corner.
Gardner was followed in the scoring by Kemani Curry (16), Nick Hott (9), Menefee (8), Emerson Ferguson (7), Chaz Lattimore (6) and Schwantes (6). The Judges made 24 of 48 shots through three quarters.
“Some guys are stepping up and executing and making shots when we need them to,” Toton said. “Hopefully that continues.”
Handley won the previous two meetings with Culpeper 80-35 and 69-45, with Gardner scoring 35 and 26 points, respectively, in those victories.
The Blue Devils were led Thursday by Chase Smith, who had a game-high 21 points.