By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLAND, Va. —
It wasn’t the start or the finish the Bland County Bears were looking for in the opening round of the Mountain Empire District tournament.
The Bears were hoping to avenge a four-point loss less than a week ago to the two-time defending state champion Galax Maroon Tide. The Tide jumped out to 12-point led then held off a furious rally by Bland County to edge the Bears 63-62 on Monday night at Bland High School.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Galax head coach Verl Brown said. “These guys are a great bunch of ball players. I remember when they were all freshmen. Those guys kept getting better every year — [Asher] Dillow, [Chase] Hankins and [Darryl] Clark.
“I knew we had a big challenge and I knew they were going to knock them down. They got three of the best shooters in the league. …I tip my hat off to Rich and those guys.
“They’ve got a good ballclub. Even if we get knocked out, I’m going to be pulling for them unless we play each at other.”
The win keeps Galax’s post-season hopes alive. The Maroon Tide (5-15) will play in the MED semifinals Thursday against Grayson County at Fort Chiswell.
Bland County (12-10) will be off a week before playing in the Region C tournament.
“Both teams played extremely hard,” Bears head coach Rich Hankins said. “I thought Galax was just a little bit quicker in the first eight minutes. They got to some loose basketballs and second chance opportunities which gave them momentum early.
“As the game went on, I thought our kids got a little bit stronger. Their defensive intensity was fantastic. It was tough way to lose down the stretch.
“Right now, we just don’t have any confidence in finishing basketball games. It seems like it’s been that way all year for us. We somehow got to find a win. We have to find a way to pull one out next week.”
A lay-in and drive by Chase Garvey helped the Maroon Tide build a quick 5-0 lead before Darryl Clark drained a three for Bland County. Two fast break scores allowed Galax to rebuild their lead until Asher Dillow broke Galax’s press and converted.
Following a steal, Dillow’s fastbreak lay-up made it two-point margin. However, Keyshawn Brown hit a three just before the buzzer to give the Tide a 14-9 advantage after one.
“We’ve stressed all year to get out and run,” Brown said. “We know we have some athletes. This is a whole different bunch from the last two years when we were state champs. This is their own identity.
“It’s been hard. We’re still fighting.”
The margin grew to 12 points in the second quarter following a 6-0 run midway through the quarter. Dillow drained a three to slow Galax’s momentum, but the lead stayed near 10 for most of the period.
It wasn’t until the final 30 second when Clark converted a fastbreak opportunity then drilled a three from deep to make it 33-27 at the break.
“The [pace] favored Galax early,” coach Hankins said. “Our tendency has always been if we get six or eight down, we’re going to shoot ourselves right back in it or try. That was my point to the kids at halftime that we were playing way to face. We were giving Galax some extra scoring opportunities.”
In the third quarter, the momentum began to shift toward Bland County.
The Bears opened the quarter on a 10-3 run thanks to two three’s and drive by Dillow. The last three gave Bland County a 37-36 lead. Galax’s Darian Brown hit jumper then Chase Hankins drive to the hoop as the Bears took the lead once again.
Brown found Caleb Pack open underneath to end Bland County’s run as the Tide were able to take a 45-41 lead into the final eight minutes.
“It seemed like our defense stepped up and maybe we got an easy basket or two,” coach Hankins said. “We started to hit some shots and gained a little confidence.”
Every time Galax would grow their lead, the Bears seemed to have an answer.
Hankins scored 12 of his 20 points down the stretch and Dillow added a putback, two free throws and a nice assist to John Miller.
Bland County had a chance to tie the game late when Hankins went to the line for three free throws. The senior could only convert one. After Steven Peoples could only connect on one of his two free throws attempts, Dillow hit his two attempts as Galax fouled before the Bears could get a shot off.
With less than five seconds left, Bland County attempted to foul, but could not get a call.
“It’s been tough a year,” coach Hankins said. “We have to find a way to pick our heads up and get ready for regionals next week.”
Dillow had 21 points to pace the Bears. Hankins added 20 and Clark finished with 15 points. Only two other Bland County players scored.
Pack led Galax with 15 points. Chandler Quesenberry had 12 and Peoples chipped in with 11.
At Bland High School
K. Brown 3, Bartlett 1, D. Brown 5, Steven Peoples 11, Merdian 6, Chandler Quesenberry 12, Garvey 6, Bryant 4, Caleb Pack 15. Totals- 23 12-25 63.
BLAND COUNTY (12-10)
Asher Dillow 12, Johan Miller 4, Darryl Clark 15, Chase Hankins 20, John Miller 2. Totals- 18 15-24 78.
Galax..................................14 19 12 18 — 63
Bland County......................9 18 14 21 — 62
3 pt field goals: G 5 (Merdian 2, K. Brown, Peoples, Quesenberry); BC 7 (Dillow 3, Clark 3, Hankins).