Great Bridge crosses the RiverPublished 10:14pm Wednesday, January 30, 2013
By Matthew Hatfield
Needing a win on the road to keep their slim Southeastern District title hopes alive, the Nansemond River Warriors played well enough for much of their battle in Chesapeake against the Great Bridge Wildcats on Tuesday.
However, at crucial moments late in the first half and for stretches in the second half, the Warriors were unable to hold onto a lead. As a result, Great Bridge swept Nansemond River in the regular season for the first time since 2009-10, edging the Warriors 55-51.
With the loss, Nansemond River fell to 13-5 (10-4 in the district) with four games remaining.
The latest defeat was perhaps the toughest to swallow all season for Warriors head coach Ed Young, given that his team had been on a six-game January winning streak and that it had frittered away the lead against Great Bridge.
“We had numerous chances to win but didn’t execute enough when needed to put them away,” Young said. “We made too many mistakes on fundamentals that we emphasize every day in practice, and a lack of focus to those things led to our downfall. I pray we play them again and fix those mistakes.”
Nansemond River jumped ahead 16-13 after one quarter, shooting 7-of-14 from the field, with junior point guard Khalil Carroll knocking down a couple of three-pointers. The Warriors effectively swung the ball around the perimeter and got high-percentage shots inside with seven assists coming on their first nine field goals.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats couldn’t solve Nansemond River’s switching defenses, keeping them off balance and forcing them into long shots that were off the mark.
A three-pointer from reserve Cristian Alexander followed by a Carroll floater in the lane gave the Warriors a 23-13 lead with 4:51 to go in the first half. From that point on, though, Great Bridge took control, keeping Nansemond River out of transition for the most part and successfully getting the ball into the paint to collapse the defense and open up better looks from the outside.
Having misfired on 13 of their first 14 three-point attempts, Great Bridge made a pair in the final two minutes and closed the second quarter on a 13-2 run to claim a 26-25 advantage at the half.
Young was discouraged by the fact his team failed to make a free-throw in the first half and that seniors Ed Drew and Kendric Washington were limited due to foul trouble.
“Drew and Washington getting into foul trouble killed us at both ends of the floor,” he said. “Once again, we got in our lost mode, where we will get away from what works for us and allow our opponent back into the game. You know it is coming, you’re just not sure when. Great Bridge took advantage of our mistakes, both mental and physical, and that enabled them to take the lead.”
In the third quarter, Nansemond River got up 33-28 on three-point plays from Washington and sophomore Scott Spencer. Great Bridge responded with a run until junior Devon Oakley put the Warriors back up, 41-40, on a basket to end the third period.
After a Spencer jumper pushed the Warriors’ lead to three at the start of the fourth quarter, Great Bridge went on a 10-4 spurt, and Nansemond River failed to make a shot from the field the final 4:49 of regulation.
The Wildcats were spurred by the tandem of senior Byron Williams and junior Marcus Evans, a duo that accounted for 31 of Great Bridge’s points. Together, they made three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, all either tying the score or putting Great Bridge ahead.
On the other side, NR’s top scorer, Drew, finished with nine points and 13 rebounds. He was held to just three points and three boards in the final period, as Great Bridge denied him touches in the paint and controlled the Warriors’ fast-break.
“When we don’t run or get the ball inside to Drew, we are in major trouble,” Young said. “Evans showed why he is the best player in the district. And the Williams kid may have been the Player of the Game because every shot he hit was big.”
Nansemond River plays its final home game of the season Thursday against Western Branch (12-6; 9-5). The game will be significant for the Warriors.
“We will be prepared for what they do. We understand the situation we are in,” noted Young. “It’s Senior Night, and we have never lost on Senior Night, so we’ve got to keep that streak going.”