NR boys advance in regionals

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2012

By Matthew Hatfield

Coaches and players talk all the time about getting hot at the right time. For the Nansemond River Warriors, that time is now.

Fresh off a Southeastern District Tournament Championship, the No. 2-seed Warriors opened up regional play on Monday at King’s Fork High School and blitzed one of the area’s favorites, the No.-3 seed Maury Commodores, dominating from the beginning of the game to the 72-49 finish.

Nansemond River High School senior Dontrell Brite goes up for a powerful dunk near the end of the game Monday against the Maury High School Commodores in the first round of the Eastern Region championship tournament at King’s Fork High School. The Warriors made easy work of their opponents, winning 72-49. They advance to the quarterfinals and will play Hampton High School Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Norfolk Scope.

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Nansemond River overwhelmed Maury (16-7) with outstanding guard play, length on the inside and overall depth, forcing 27 turnovers and capitalizing time after time. Not only did nine players score, three of them in double-figures, but it also was a collective effort defensively with 16 steals and 11 blocked shots, resulting in several crowd-pleasing dunks and easy transition baskets.

“The first half was one of the best halves we’ve had this whole year,” said Nansemond River’s Jay Melendez, one of nine seniors on the roster. “We came out with a chip on our shoulder and felt like we had something to prove. Even though we had the better record, they were picked higher and to go further than us. It’s also our first win in a while against the Eastern District. Right now we’re having a lot of fun, getting out and running and feel like we can beat anybody as long as we execute the game-plan.”

In the previous seven seasons, Nansemond River has gone just 1-3 in regional playoffs against teams from the Eastern District, including a 40-point loss to Booker T. Washington a year ago. That stuck in players’ memories as they prepared for Maury.

“We basically envisioned that this game was like playing against Booker T. again,” said guard Shannon Evans, an All-Southeastern District First Team selection.

Evans poured in a game-high 21 points with four three-pointers and collected seven rebounds. He hit back-to-back three-pointers during a sequence early in the second quarter to push the Warriors’ lead up to 15. The advantage would swell to as many as 25. His backcourt running mate, fellow All-District performer Dontrell Brite, was a magician with the basketball.

Brite ended up with 15 points and 12 assists, his fifth game of double-digit assists this season. The lightning-fast point guard also had five steals. While he and Evans pestered the Maury guards, Nansemond River’s front-line was waiting around the basket to contest anything that went up.

The Warriors blocked seven of Maury’s first 19 shots and held the Commodores’ star player, Jamal Ferguson, a Marquette signee, to just six points in the first half. Ferguson had scored 30 in each of his team’s previous two games.

An integral part of the Warriors’ success on defense is 6-foot-5 senior center John Joyce, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Joyce finished with a career-high 17 points, five rebounds and five blocks.

The Warriors are now 21-4 overall, winners of 10 of their last 11 and appear to be playing their best basketball of the season when it matters most.

“There were a couple points during the season where we kind of fell asleep, but we woke back up and now we’re playing our game more and more,” Joyce said. “People are starting to come into their role, playing as they are. Like me, I scored 17 and I didn’t even know it, because we were in the flow of our game, and we all had high-energy plays.”

Maury would pull within 12 points in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. However, that would be as close the Commodores got the whole second half as Nansemond River outscored them 22-11 from there, concluding with some thunderous jams.

Nansemond River’s next opponent will be a tough one. At 6 p.m. Thursday, they will go up against the Hampton Crabbers (21-5), regular-season champions of the Peninsula District, at the Norfolk Scope.

“I’ve been there two years, and we got blown out both times,” Evans said. “It’s really not as big a deal for us getting there as much as now we want to be able to move on.”


Elsewhere in the Eastern Region boys’ basketball championship series on Monday, the King’s Fork Bulldogs beat I.C. Norcom 60-57 to move on to the quarterfinals Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Norfolk Scope.

For full coverage of the King’s Fork game, along with a preview of its Thursday night matchup, look in tomorrow’s edition of the Suffolk News-Herald.