By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WYTHEVILLE, Va. —
Graham survived one must-win game, now it’s time for another one.
While Bluefield and Princeton will meet tonight in the much-anticipated regular season finale for both clubs, Graham is playing for its basketball life.
Two nights after defeating George Wythe 68-50 in the opening round of the Region C, Division 2 tournament, the G-Men return to the floor to face Mountain Empire District foe Grayson County with a state tournament berth waiting for the winning team.
These teams have met three times this season, with the Blue Devils winning the last two, 57-56 and 68-52. The G-Men beat Grayson County 75-72 in a tournament in December.
“We didn’t play very well the last two games,” said Graham sophomore Colby Hill, who has scored 32, 14 and 14 points against the Blue Devils. “We have got to come out here like we did tonight, emotional, and have fun with the game and it will be another story.”
Graham (16-8) will play the second of two semifinal games tonight against the Blue Devils (18-6) at Graham Middle School. Tip-off is slated for around 8 p.m.
“It will be a good game, our fourth game with them,” said Hill, who had 21 points against George Wythe, one less than the 22 by Spencer Sheets. “We have to come out here and prove to everybody we can win this game.”
That game will be preceded by top-seeded Radford (23-2) and Glenvar (19-5) at 6. The winners will meet for the Region C championship on Saturday at Graham. Both teams will qualify for next week’s state quarterfinal round.
Hill had 32 points, while Tony Hood had 26 and Sheets added 12 in the initial win over the Blue Devils. However, Grayson County has held the G-Men to 56 and 52 points after allowing 75 in that loss.
Max Rodgers has led Grayson County, averaging 15.6 points a game against the G-Men, including a free throw with 1 second left to give the Blue Devils a one-point win in January. Mikey Rodgers and Ty Cannady are also key contributors for the Devils.
While Grayson County would finish the MED regular season with a 10-0 record, Graham proceeded to lose four of five, but snapped that skid with the win over the Maroons.
“The thing about it is we are familiar with them, we know what they are going to try to do,” Graham head coach Glynn Carlock, Jr. said. “They are extremely athletic, they have a great point guard, they have a great big man and they have capable shooters and they are extremely well coached.”
Graham, which sported its gold jerseys and shorts at George Wythe for the first time since the Ahmad Bradshaw-led G-Men reached the state semifinals in 2002, got a solid team effort against the Maroons, with Tony Hood distributing the ball and Marshall Hawley and Roman Workman controlling the boards.
“At this time of the year you have got to do the little things to make the big things happen,” Carlock said. “We were going to have to rebound the basketball, limit the second chance opportunities and run our sets and hit shots and hit free throws.”
Free throws were an issue in both losses to the Blue Devils, but Graham was 13 for 14 in the opening half against the Maroons and 34-of-42 in the game. That trend must continue tonight.
“The couple of times we lost to them we were horrible from the free throw line,” Carlock said. “We feel like that could be a difference maker for us.
“If we step up there with confidence and hit them, then it is going to be a tight ball game at our house on Friday night.”
Graham isn’t the only area team with a must-win on its hands.
•Bland County (12-10) will play Auburn (14-11) in the Region C, Division 1 semifinals tonight at Galax High School.
Since beating Graham on Feb. 1, the Bears have lost three straight by a total of 12 points. Bland County is led by MED Player of the Year Asher Dillow, along with first team honoree Chase Hankins and second teamer Darryl Clark.
Auburn, which is led by Jesse Rutledge, Jake Shelburne and Dustin Simpkins, is 4-4 in its last eight games.
The winner advances to play either Parry McCluer (19-5) or Covington (10-14) in the championship game on Saturday. Both semifinal winners will participate in the state tourney play next week.
•The Richlands girls basketball team will seek its third straight Region IV, Division 3 title tonight at Patrick County.
Richlands (19-4) will take on Ebony Reynolds and the Cougars (17-8), who the Lady Blues defeated for the school’s first region basketball championship in school history two years ago.
The Lady Blues are led by the guard play of Brittany Allen, Cassidy Richardson and MaKenley Davis, while Rachel Alley and Sarah Compton are effective inside. Patrick County has won four of its last five games.
Both teams have already qualified for state tournament play next week.
•The Princeton girls basketball team is already qualified for regional play next week, but the Tigerettes will try to do something tonight that no one else has done — beat Greenbrier East.
Princeton (18-4) has lost just four times all season, but the Spartans are a perfect 22-0, although they did get a tussle in the regional semifinals by Shady Spring, winning by just nine, just the fifth time this season that Greenbrier East didn’t win by at least 10 points.
McKenzie Akers will lead the Tigerettes, along with Marissa Mullins, who combined with Princeton boys team member Derek Jennelle, to win the MSAC Night of Champions hot shot competition last weekend.
The teams will meet tonight at the Fayette County Memorial Building in Fayetteville. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.
•In a much-anticipated regular season game on tap tonight, Bluefield (19-2) will seek to avenge one of its two losses on the season at Princeton (16-5). Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Princeton defeated the Beavers 68-61 on Dec. 28. The Tigers were dominant inside, led by Aaron Ferguson’s 22 points, while Ryan Meadows added 19.
Michael Yost led Bluefield with 22 points in the loss. Anthony Eades added 17 and Lykel Collier poured in 15.
•The Haysi Tigers are the lone Black Diamond District boys team still playing. The Tigers will face John I. Burton tonight at Lebanon, with the winner qualifying for state tournament play next week.
—Contact Brian Woodson