Lakeland loses close one to Varina

Published 9:46 pm Monday, January 20, 2020

By Matthew Hatfield


The Lakeland Cavaliers boys’ basketball team faced one of the state’s most successful programs in recent years when they took on the Varina Blue Devils during Saturday’s Battles Lines II Invitational held at King’s Fork High School.

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Varina, which came in 8-3 overall on the season not long removed from winning the 2017-18 Class 5 state championship, needed to hold off two potential game-tying three-point shots in the closing seconds to edge Lakeland, 71-68.

Although it came in defeat, it was a performance to remember for senior guard Keimari Artis. On 10-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-13 from three-point range, Artis scored a career-high 34 points, with half of them coming in the fourth quarter. He also made 8-of-9 free-throws, grabbed five rebounds, had three assists, made two steals and drew two charges as the Cavs nearly erased an eight-point deficit with 1:35 to play.

“Not really surprised, because Keimari’s always had that potential,” said Lakeland Coach Clint Wright Sr. “Keimari has a nice drive and wants an opportunity at the next level, which he’s showing. He definitely carried us on his back. We were not that efficient in the first three quarters, but he practically carried us the whole game.”

When Artis hit his second three-pointer of the contest, Lakeland led 12-8 with 4:16 to go in the opening quarter. Yet, Varina managed to tie the score at 16-all going into the second period. It was déjà vu when Artis made his third trey at the 4:45 mark of the second quarter, giving the Cavs a 23-18 advantage, except Varina closed the gap by halftime, trailing only 31-30.

Lakeland attempted 10 more shots than Varina in the first half, had half as many turnovers — just four compared to eight by the visitors from Richmond — and was ahead by a mere point as the rest of the starting unit struggled to find their outside shooting touch. In fact, eliminate what Artis did, and the rest of the Cavs went 1-of-19 from behind the arc.

“There were some seniors that played that didn’t give us the point total that we normally get from them,” Wright said. “The crazy part is these things are correctable.”

In the third period, Varina seized control, outscoring Lakeland 19-10 to go up 49-41. The Cavs went 0-for-7 on three-point shots in that stretch, though Wright sensed they had missed an opportunity to build their own advantage before then.

“To me, the game swung in the first quarter. I could tell by our energy level we were not playing true basketball,” he said. “I don’t know if they read up on Varina and looked at the history or the pedigree. It felt like they were playing laid back. But Keimari always looked different throughout that game. The third quarter was also a rough one. We were just playing flat.”

There were no other double-figure scorers for Lakeland outside of Artis. The next closest was senior Raymond Bellamy, finishing with nine points and 11 rebounds.

Varina went 29-of-44 from the foul line, including 16-of-20 in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils lived in the paint and did not attempt a single three-point shot in the second half.

“We looked at this team and how they matched up with some of the 3A schools, particularly how they fared against Hopewell and Petersburg. That kind of concerns us because those teams beat this team. So we don’t want to play the numbers game, but we’ve got to say that these are guys that we’re going to see down the road,” Wright said.

“We do feel that we can learn from this, even though you hate to learn by being on the side of scoring the least amount of points. We’ve got to play with the level of intensity that’s more attractive than what we did tonight.”

It’s back to the drawing board for Lakeland, now 10-4 overall.

“We’ll chalk this up as a learning lesson and prepare ourselves for Wilson on Wednesday,” Wright said. “That’s definitely not a good environment to go and play in if you’re not mentally tough. We’ll dial it back up and prepare ourselves for a good Wilson basketball team.”