Class AAA No. 5 Greenbrier East was locked in a battle with defending AA champion Bluefield Friday night at Spartan Gym when East coach Jim Justice decided to make a switch.
With the Spartans leading 41-40 at halftime — a Matthew Woodrum half-court shot at the buzzer keeping that margin small — Justice went to a triangle-and-two defense in an attempt to slow down Michael Yost and Anthony Eades, who had scored 26 of the Beavers’ 40 points between them.
The game was never the same.
East (7-2) held the Beavers to just 12 points the entire second half on 5 of 28 shooting from the field to build up a 56-48 lead at the end of three and win going away 67-52.
The Beavers (5-1), ranked No. 1 in AA, finished the second half 0-for-11 from 3-point range, while Yost, battling an ankle injury, and Eades, who eventually became the target of the Spartans box-and-one, were held to just two points between them over the final 16 minutes.
"Our kids came back one time and said, 'They don't know what to do,'" said Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice, whose team has beaten state basketball powers Woodrow Wilson and Bluefield in back-to-back games. "It really worked. At halftime, they had only attempted one 3 except the one they made form halfcourt, so we had to at least try it and we got it done."
"We just didn't do a good job of making a strong run in the second half and they did," added Bluefield head coach Buster Large. "I've said all along they are one of the best teams in the state, and they proved that."
The Spartans, who shot 60 percent for the game, found their scoring from a variety of sources. Wake Forest signee Rondale Watson led all scorers with 19 to go along with eight rebounds, and Josh Tunstalle turned in a solid effort for the second straight game, finishing with 14 points and five boards.
St. Joseph's signee Obi Romeo, East's big man in the post, had a double-double with 14 points and 14 boards and scored the first six points of the second half — two of the goals crowd-pleasing dunks — to help the Spartans open up a cushion.
"Obi is quite a talent," said Justice. "We got the ball to him, and he had a great second half."
The Spartan that hurt Bluefield the most, though, was probably Tyler Canterbury. The East sharp-shooter had been off the mark from 3-point range in recent games, but he found his shot against the Beavers, knocking down five of his six 3-point attempts to finish with 15 points.
"I've been working on my shot all week since the Woodrow game, and it finally came around," said the junior. "I was feeling it. I think we needed that."
Bluefield battled on the glass, staying close in the rebound numbers that so drastically favored the Spartans when these teams met last season. East outrebounded the visitors 37-31, but the effort from an undersized Bluefield team helped keep the Beavers around.
Yost finished with 15 points, while Eades scored 13. Point guard Lykel Collier had 11 points and four rebounds.
The much-anticipated game lived up to the hype for most of three quarters, with the lead changing hands 13 times in the first half. The Beavers, though, didn't score a field goal in the final 7-plus minutes as the Spartans sent the home fans home happy.
"We're getting better, that's for sure," said Justice. "A lot of it is the defense, and that's really pleasing."
Greenbrier East will be right back in action today, on the road against Fluvanna, Va. The Beavers will be on the floor again Tuesday hosting Class AA No. 4 and undefeated Wyoming East in another showdown that will draw eyes around the state.
"We're much better than (we played)," said Large. "We need to come out and play like state champs."
At Greenbrier East
D.J. Edwards 1-9 1-2 3, Anthony Eades 6-16 0-0 13, Lykel Collier 4-12 3-3 11, Michael Yost 6-9 0-1 15, Corey Coppola 2-8 0-4 4, Jordan Ponder 0-3 0-0 0, Dakoda Smalls 0-0 1-2 1, Azir Price 0-3 0-0 0, Matthew Woodrum 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 21-62 5-12 52.
GREENBRIER EAST (7-2)
Josh Tunstalle 5-8 2-5 14, Obi Romeo 7-8 0-1 14, Rondale Watson 8-16 2-4 19, Isaiah Kinder 0-2 1-2 1, Tyler Canterbury 5-6 0-0 15, Ty Walker 0-2 0-0 0, Ben Allen 1-2 0-0 2, Kamen Reynolds 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-45 5-16 67.
Bluefield..........................24 16 8 4 — 52
Greenbrier East..............20 21 15 11 — 67
3-point goals — B: 5 (Yost 3, Eades, Woodrum). GE: 8 (Canterbury 5, Tustalle 2, Watson). Fouled out — None.