Did you hear it? That was the sound of a “wake up” call for the James River boys as they head into Region C play this week, beginning with a home game tonight against Floyd County.
The Knights needed two overtimes to hold off a pesky Parry McCluer basketball team and claim the Pioneer District tournament championship in Bath County last Saturday night. The Knights took a 57-56 win over a team they’d beaten by 34 and 27 points in two previous meetings.
“We fell out of rhythm of what we had been doing well,” said River coach Mike Goad. “They forced us to play a style we weren’t used to.”
For most of the season it was James River who forced the tempo, pushing the ball up and down the floor and taking advantage of the Knights’ speed and athleticism. However, the Blues played a half court zone and slowed the game to their advantage, much to the credit of coach Nelson Fox.
“Nelson Fox is a good coach,” said Goad. “We’ve coached against each other a lot of times and that’s his style of play. If you play Nelson Fox’s way, then it’s going to take you out of your game, and that’s what happened. We didn’t run well, we didn’t fill the lanes, and we didn’t play good defense. He did what he had to do with a young team and we just didn’t adjust.”
River led 19-11 after one quarter but just six points were scored the entire second period as the Knights went into the locker room with a 23-13 lead. The Blues trimmed the lead by one point after three quarters and rallied to tie the game in the fourth, sending it into overtime. The Blues hit a three-pointer to beat the clock after River failed to clinch the game by missing a free throw on the other end.
At the end of the first overtime, Andrew Tucker tied the game with a shot from the corner. Parry McCluer had taken a two-point lead with five seconds to go, but J.T. Sandidge pushed the ball up the floor and found Tucker, who just beat the clock.
The second overtime proved to be a chess game between Goad and Fox. The Blues had the ball, down 57-56, with 0.6 seconds on the clock, and Goad and Fox combined to call six timeouts during that time, four by Goad and two by Fox.
“He called a timeout, then I called one after I saw what they were setting up,” said Goad. “Then I called some more. It was like freezing the field goal kicker. I know their fans weren’t too happy with me.”
The Blues didn’t get a good shot off and River held on for the 57-56 win. In a balanced attack Patrick Bennett had 17 points, Jordan Talbott had 15, Ethan Humphries had 13, and Tucker had nine.
The win gives River a 24-2 overall record and the Knights remained unbeaten in the Pioneer District for the fourth year in a row. The varsity seniors are 48-0 against Pioneer District teams in the past four years.
That’s not the goal, however. The real tests begin now with Region C, Division 2 play beginning this week. River has a home game against Floyd County tonight at 7, and the semifinals move to Northwood on Friday. If they advance the Knights would play the winner of a first round game between Grayson County and Chilhowie at 7:45 p.m. Friday at Northwood. The Region C, Division 2 final is Saturday at 7:45 p.m., also at Northwood.
River needs to reach the final to make the state tournament, and a Region C championship would bring a state quarterfinal game back to this area. Right now, however, all Goad is thinking about is Floyd County tonight. Parry McCluer taught the boys that lesson.
“When you look ahead, that’s when you get in trouble,” said Goad. “Maybe we took Parry McCluer for granted, but we can correct that in practice. Everyone but our fans were against us in that game and we had a hard time staying focused. Teams that are focused can survive, and right now we’re focused on Floyd County and no one else.”