BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Virginia High came out looking to score “Every Point for Palmer,” as a banner exclaimed behind one of the baskets.
They scored 78 of them, and that was enough to send the Bearcats to a 78-62 Region 2A-West first round win over Graham on Wednesday night at Graham High School.
Graham finished its season with an 18-7 record, missing by one game of advancing to the state quarterfinals for a second straight season.
“I would have liked to have shot the ball better first,” said Graham head coach Glynn Carlock Jr., whose G-Men closed to within nine points in the final minute, but the Bulldogs outscored them 8-1 to win by 16. “If we shoot the ball real well then we are usually right there in the game, but the fact of the matter is, it was a nine-point game with 1:36 left.
“We are trying to get a timeout when it had turned into a three-possession game and man it just exploded into this. That is what you do when you are dealing with an athletic squad, and they have got an athletic squad so I wish them all the luck.”
For Virginia High, it was an emotional return to the court, one day after English teacher and drama instructor Kristin Palmer was one of four people killed in a domestic dispute in nearby Glade Spring.
“It is good to be home...,” said Virginia High head coach Barry Reed, a graduate of Graham, who accepted a banner from the Graham student body prior to the game in remembrance of Palmer. “I think for the most part we executed and played a pretty good game, especially defensively when we switched into our zone defense in the third quarter there.”
Even though the Bearcats won by 16, the G-Men were within nine, at 70-61, with 1:36 left when Virginia High put an exclamation mark on the victory, keyed by a pair of highlight reel dunks by senior Noah Walker, who played his first three years of prep basketball at Tazewell.
“It was just hard work and good defense that got us over the top,” said Walker, who finished with 13 points and three blocked shots despite being saddled with four fouls early in the third period. “We had good plays and we just pulled through.”
Toure Fudge and Trey Lane added 13 points each for Virginia High, while Michael Obuekwe and little-used Castavas Davis added 12 each. Davis had four of the Bearcats’ nine 3s, while Lane had three and Fudge added two.
While Hill led Graham with 16 of their 28 first half points, Davis came off the bench to hit four 3s to lead the Bearcats with 12 at the break.
“Castavas in the first half,” Reed said. “Now did he play a good game. He played a great first half because they left him alone over there and they had probably never heard of him because he doesn’t play a whole lot
“That was a huge lift in the first half because Noah is on the bench in foul trouble and nobody else seems to be taking control. We can’t say enough good things about him in the first half, it was a great time for him to pick it up and play a great game.”
Lee also dished out 12 assists for Virginia High, while Lane added four, as the Bearcats outscored the G-Men 45-34 after the break, including 25-14 in the third period to take a 58-42 lead into the final quarter.
“We caused some turnovers, and really with five people in double figures, and we had like three people with nine rebounds, what more can you ask for, it was all balanced,” said Reed, whose Bearcats will play unbeaten Dan River in the Region 2A-West quarterfinals on Friday at Floyd County High School. “Graham made a couple of runs, but it showed a lot about what we are all about by not only did we not fold, but we regained the lead and sometimes increased the lead.
“Working towards the end of February, it is a good time to be in that situation. This was our 20th win, in Virginia, that is big, and we are in the elite eight, so that is big.”
Graham (18-7), which led early 6-2, was outscored 18-4 the remainder of the quarter, falling behind by as much as 14 in the opening half before pulling within 33-28 at the break.
“I am proud of my guys for the year that we have had,” Carlock said. “We had 18 wins, we ended up 18-7, I thought we could have got the win tonight.
“I felt confident playing in our own house, had a real good two days of practice, but just didn’t take care of the basketball, didn’t hit our shots and we didn’t box out. We are challenged in that department anyway, our biggest player is 6’1.”
Colby Hill, who led Graham with 25 points, pulled the G-Men within 33-31 with a free throw early in the third quarter, but the Bearcats went on a 12-4 run, and never allow the opposition to get any closer than nine points.
Graham scored the first seven points of the final period, led by six points by Hood, who fouled out with 2:46 to play with nine points in the game. Roman Workman added 14 points, while Thomas Clarke had eight, including a 3 with 1:36 to play to pull the G-Men to within 70-61.
Virginia High followed by making 3-of-4 free throws, and then Lee swiped the ball from the G-Men and fed a streaking Walker who went up for a highlight reel tomahawk slam dunk.
“I was waiting for them,” said a smiling Walker, of getting the dunks in a gym where he spent much of his childhood. “It was a tomahawk and a back-scratcher.”
That was followed by another Lee steal and assist, with Walker slamming it down again, as the Bearcats were glad to have Walker in the lineup after he injured his ankle in the Clinch Mountain Conference tournament last week.
“I have been worried about it because he hasn’t practice yet, he played tonight, but he didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday,” said Reed, who said the Bearcats have measured Walker with at least a 40-inch vertical leap. “Noah will tell you he has probably got pain, but he had to play through pain, he really did, he did a good job.
“Here he has 13 points and he didn’t even play two quarters tonight...What a great athlete, you all saw the finish that he had, just an outstanding athlete.”
Graham returns its entire roster next season, and will add a few reinforcements from its middle school program, a fact not lost on Reed or Carlock.
“Graham is young, they will be back next year,” Reed said. “We know that and they will be a year older. The future looks bright for them.”
“There is nobody that should leave the locker room with their heads held low tonight,” added Carlock. “They should leave with their heads held high.
“There are not many circumstances where you have everybody back, but they have got to work and we will.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org
at Graham Middle School
VIRGINIA HIGH (20-6)
Derrick Lee 3 1-2 7, Trey Lane 5 2-2 13, Ben Couch 2 0-0 4, Toure Fudge 4 1-2 13, Noah Walker 5 3-3 13, Michael Obuekwe 3 6-10 12, Castavas Davis 4 0-0 12, Koby Clisby 1 2-2 4, Ayshyn Howser 0 0-0 0, Totals 27 15-21 78.
Tony Hood 2 5-8 9, Roman Workman 5 3-4 14, Thomas Clarke 3 1-2 8, Colby Hill 8 6-8 25, Tanner Miller 0 1-4 1, Nick Morgan 2 0-1 5, Ben Meade 0 0-0 0, Jacob Simpson 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 16-27 62.
Virginia High.....................20 13 25 20 — 78
Graham.............................10 18 14 20 — 62
3-point goals: VH 9 (Davis 4, Lane 3, Fudge 2); GR 6 (Hill 3, Morgan 1, Clarke 1, Workman 1). Total fouls: VH 18; GR 29. Fouled out: Hood. Technicals: none.