By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
It was freshman vs. freshman from outside, but the veterans took over for Graham when it mattered most.
Juniors Colby Hill and Tony Hood combined for 27 of Graham's final 41 points, and the G-Men captured the first-ever Southern Empire Conference (39) championship with a 73-62 win over Richlands on Saturday night at a steamy, loud and packed Richlands Middle School.
Graham (18-6) will host Conference 40 runner-up Virginia High in the Group 2A-West regionals on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Win there, and the G-Men will advance to the semifinals later in the week at Floyd County High School.
"This was a total team effort here, we have been playing well in the second half of this season," said Graham head coach Glynn Carlock, Jr, whose G-Men have won eight games in a row. "We have tried to fight through a lot of things, but I am going to sit here tonight and I am going to give a little credit to my guys.
"I am going to tell you what, I will go to war with these guys I have got anytime. They are undersized, they are kind of looked at funny when they walk in the gym, but we get after people and we are going to try and continue that as long as we can."
Ditto for Richlands (9-14), which used a 12-2 run to open the third quarter to take its biggest lead at 38-32 with 3:20 on the clock.
"They are very good team, Coach Carlock does a great job, they are the number seed for a reason," Richlands head coach Jody Fuller said. "Our kids had a great run, we came to play tonight, had great support again tonight from our fan base and we just couldn't put them in the coffin with that little run.
"They had an answer for everything, they hit some really big shots."
Right before Cody Fuller's final 3 put the Blues up by those six points, another freshman, Nick Morgan from Graham, whose father is Bluefield College men's coach Richard Morgan canned his first of four second half 3s to stop a 9-0 Richlands run.
"At this stage in the season there are no freshman, these guys are grown up," Carlock said. "They are far more than freshmen, for them and for us, our kid and their kid have been around basketball their whole lifes. It is a just a number, it is just a grade, it doesn't matter."
Graham went on a roll from that point, led by Hood with 12 of his 16 points, and Hill scoring 15 of his 25 over the final 12:40 of the game, as the G-Men appeared to simply refuse to lose.
"They decided before the game and reiterated the point at halftime about refusing to lose this game," Carlock said. "We get down, they come down and make a real nice run, shoot the ball real well, but it is pretty hard for our guys to get rattled.
"They don't get rattled very easy and we didn't get rattled there. We were able to settle down and hit some shots and get back to where we needed to be."
Graham followed up Richlands' 12-3 run with a 15-2 run to end the quarter, led by two 3s by Morgan and one apiece from Hood and Hill. Richlands managed just one basket, a layup by Ben Brown, but the Blues were down 47-40 with a period to play.
"I didn't feel like we could trail with four or five minutes on the clock because of their quickness it would be very hard for us to trap," Fuller said. "When they got that 10 point lead with four or five minutes to, with their quickness and their free throw shooting ability it makes it very hard down the stretch.
"I told them we had to lead down the stretch if we were going to pull this off tonight."
While Graham struggled from the free throw line, making just 12 for 23 and 4 of 11 in the final two minutes, Roman Workman, who had 17 points, including 12 at the break, was able to help the G-Men start fast , and then, scored five points in the final period.
"Workman is our energy guy," Carlock said. "He is a high energy guy, he is our slasher, he gets to the basket."
Brown added 15 points for Richlands and Scottie Ball had 14 as the Blue Tornado prepares next for a visit to Gate City, with hopes of finally securing the school's first-ever boys regional tournament win.
"We are going to get Gate City, Gate City is a tremendous team, they are number one in their Conference 40, which is loaded...," Fuller said. "We are going to their house on Wednesday. We will go down there and we are going to lay it on the line.
"That is one thing about these kids is they believe in themselves and we are not going to lay down...We will go down there and we will give everything we have got."
The same goes for Graham, which is two wins from reaching the state quartefinals for the second year in a row. Up next is Virginia High, a team the G-Men scrimmaged in the preseason. The Bearcats are led by former Tazewell standout Noah Walker.
First off, the G-Men _ which made it 3 for 3 against the Blue Tornado this season _ were planning on enjoying its conference title.
"Credit to my guys tonight, we fought through this," Carlock said. "It is hard to beat a team three times and we are leaving here with the inaugural Southern Empire Conference championship and we are going to take it."
Fuller found it hard to complain too much after the loss.
"We have competed this year," he said. "We have been very competitive and most of the time our opponent knows they have been in a basketball game so I am really proud of our kids."