NR grabs tournament crown

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, February 18, 2012

By Matthew Hatfield


Friday night’s contest between the Nansemond River Warriors and Great Bridge Wildcats marked the rubber match between the two schools. They had split their two meetings earlier this year, and the Wildcats already had won a championship with the Southeastern District regular season title that gave them the top seed for next week’s Eastern Region Tournament.

Nansemond River High School senior Mike Copeland powers a shot past a defender from Great Bridge High School in Friday’s finals of the Southeastern District Tournament at King’s Fork High School. The Warriors led for nearly the entire game and finally brought Suffolk the win, beating Great Bridge 63-57 for the championship.

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Now, it was Nansemond River’s turn to pick up some hardware. The Warriors were able to do that with a 63-57 win over the Wildcats. Nansemond River played from in front for 30 of the game’s 32 minutes and never trailed from the second quarter on in securing their first district tournament crown since 2007.

“Last year we came here with the No. 1 seed and finished with a loss,” Nansemond River guard Shannon Evans said. “That was still in our heart and our heads, so we needed this one to redeem ourselves from last year. None of our seniors had won this (district tournament) before, and we wanted to get one.”

The Warriors (20-4) turned to their terrific senior guard tandem of Evans and Dontrell Brite to carry the way. Evans scored 21 points. He had 13 points and three three-pointers in the first half. Brite scored half of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to go with seven assists and four steals.

The key to the game was controlling tempo, and for Nansemond River that meant speeding the game up. When the Warriors were able to get out in the open floor, good things happened.

“We had to try to play our pace with them,” said Brite, whose quick and active hands gave Great Bridge problems. “They don’t really like to run, and they slow it down at times even when we’re trying to run. Being that they capitalized on a lot of our mistakes when they beat us the first time, we tried to make them make mistakes. They don’t really make a lot of mistakes, but they made a couple, and we capitalized on the ones they did make. We felt like we still had something to prove, being that they beat us once before.”

Brite and Evans each came through with a steal, leading to breakaway finishes on the other end to extend the Warriors’ lead to eight during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter.

“A lot of teams can’t run with us, and we feel we have the best point guard around in Dontrell,” Evans said. “But it all starts on defense, because that’s what leads to those easy transition buckets.”

When things tightened up late in the fourth quarter, Evans came through with a big play to provide some breathing room, driving baseline from the left wing for a basket to make the score 61-57 with 32 seconds remaining. Great Bridge would miss its remaining shots, and the Warriors sealed it at the foul line.

Not only did the Warriors’ stellar backcourt play show, but also their length and depth. The quartet of Ed Drew, John Joyce, Daniel Wallace and Mike Copeland combined for 20 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks.

“We have guys with length that can block shots,” commented Nansemond River coach Ed Young. “We’re averaging 10 blocked shots a game, so we hit our average tonight. We’ve also got 11 guys averaging 10 minutes or more, and we’re going to play people.”

Taj Owens and Andre Banks scored 14 points apiece to lead the Wildcats. Great Bridge’s leading scorer, Marcus Evans, was held to seven points on 1-for-13 shooting from the field.

Monday’s 6 p.m. matchup in the Eastern Region Tournament for Nansemond River will pit the Warriors against Maury (16-6), the No. 3 seed from the Eastern District, in a game that’ll be played at King’s Fork High School. It features two coaches in Young (385 wins) and Maury’s Jack Baker (649 wins) with more than 1,000 combined career victories.

“It’ll be a good one, but it’s not about Jack and me. It’s going to be about the kids and who executes the best,” Young noted.

“Right now on that floor (for Maury) is Jamal Ferguson, and he’s pretty darned good. He’s a Division I guarantee, headed to Marquette, and we don’t have that right now. What we do have are a lot of guys that are hungry.”