TAZEWELL, Va. — The rematch went the other direction.
Mac McClung scored 42 points and Gate City forced 15 turnovers, including 12 in the first half, as the Blue Devils earned a spot in the Class 2 state championship game with a 70-59 win over Graham on Tuesday night at a packed-to-the-rafters Tazewell Middle School.
Gate City (27-2) will face Robert E. Lee-Staunton in the state final on Friday in Richmond, with the Blue Devils looking for that elusive state title. The Blue Devils are 0-4 in school history in championship games, last reaching the finals in 2013.
“We are going to go Friday and we are going to get after some tail,” Gate City head coach Scott Vermillion said. “I don’t know who it is going to be, but we are going to go after somebody.”
Graham (24-3) had defeated Gate City 75-59 to win the Region 2D championship just under two weeks ago, the G-Men’s first regional title since 2002. Gate City remembered too.
“We came out soft the first time we played them. We came out too expecting something (else) to happen, but with the competitor in us, we definitely wanted to have the revenge,” said McClung, a Georgetown signee, who was 15-for-27 from the field and 9-9 from the free throw line. “They are a great team and they are well coached so it was great to get the win tonight.”
Graham, which reached the state semifinals for the first time since ’02, will lose seven seniors and head coach Glynn Carlock Jr., who is leaving coaching and teaching after this school year ends.
“It hurts,” Carlock said. “I am not going to lie to you, it hurts to be that close, but it wasn’t meant to be for the G-Men tonight.”
It was for Gate City, which jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead before the G-Men rallied back, tying the score for the only time at 8-8 on a basket by Garrett Dalton. Ultimately turnovers and second chance points allowed the Blue Devils to build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We didn’t rebound the basketball. The things we talked about before the game, we did not do a very good job of,” Carlock said. “We did not rebound the ball well in the first half which allowed them to get out to a lead. They had a lot of points off second chance baskets.”
Graham struggled with turnovers, especially in the first half, with the Blue Devils scoring 23 points off those miscues for the game. Gate City also had eight points in the first half alone on second chance putbacks.
“We had 12 turnovers at half against a sagging man-to-man defense, that is unacceptable for a team with as much guard play as we have,” Carlock said. “It is completely unacceptable, out of our character. That is very uncharacteristic for us and that certainly developed the hole that happened in the first half with them getting a big lead on us through rebounding and not taking care of the basketball.”
McClung, who is just 17 points short of claiming the Virginia career scoring record, scored 21 points in the opening half. Zac Ervin added 12 points and Bradley Dean had 10 points for the game. The Blue Devils outscored the G-Men 8-0 in the final four minutes of the second quarter to build a 33-21 lead at the break.
“When you look at the breakdown of the scoring, it is pretty much what we wanted. We wanted McClung to get his and try to hold Ervin and Dean down,” Carlock said. “If I was to look at this stat line for points for them I would have been pretty OK with it.
“I would liked to have seen Dean be held down a little bit more, but that was textbook what we were going to do in the pregame planning. We didn’t rebound the basketball and allowed a lot of second chance points.”
Graham, backed by a large audience on one side of the court, pulled within 47-41 at the end of the third quarter, but McClung took over in the fourth, scoring 13 points, while the Blue Devils went 19-for-19 from the free throw line for the game. McClung connected on a trio of 3-point shots and also had five rebounds.
“I thought our adjustments from the first time we played Graham to this time, these guys listened,” Vermillion said. “We don’t have a lot of practice this time of year, it is mainly film and talk and on-the-court walkthrough.
“These guys made some major adjustments. They don’t realize it, but it was the adjustments that made the difference in the game.”
Martin’s drive to the basket pulled the G-Men within 47-43 on the opening possession of the fourth period, but the Blue Devils continued to answer Graham runs with points of their own.
The G-Men twice trimmed the margin down to 5 at 58-53 on a 3 by Emil Curto and 60-55 on a basket and free throw from Dalton, but the Blue Devils just refused to miss free throws. Gate City also shot 62.5 percent from the field.
“All the time. During summer workouts we are always doing free throws in between drills and trying to make 10 free throws in a row during practice,” said Ervin, who was 4-5 from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe, while also pulling down seven rebounds. “Coach is always doing a good job of making sure we get those free throws in.”
Martin did his best to keep Graham close, scoring 15 points in each half to finish with 30 in his final game for the G-Men, certainly earning the praise of McClung. He was 13-for-20 from the field.
“Since my junior year when we have played Darrin, we have kind of kept in touch a little bit and I told him I think he is an underrated guard and I think he is a very talented and very poised to get to the rim,” McClung said. “That is someone I have kind of watched and tried to study his moves when we have played them. I think he is a great guard and he probably deserves a little more recognition.”
Dalton added 11 points and five rebounds for the G-Men, while Drew Baker scored eight points, joining Martin with two 3s apiece. Curto added seven points and five boards. Baker also had two steals.
Despite much criticism about the choice of venue for the game, Carlock was quick to praise the contributions of both Tazewell Middle School and Tazewell High School athletic director Aaron Buchanan, who did their part of make sure the game went off without any major issues.
“Tazewell High School, Tazewell Middle School and Aaron Buchanan should be commended for their efforts,” said Carlock, of a contest that drew more than 3,500 spectators, with the 50/50 drawing producing a hefty prize of $712 for one lucky fan. “Some people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but it started Sunday at about 2 o’clock.
“They turned it around in a hurry and we are very appreciative of their efforts on this.”
— Email: email@example.com
at Tazewell Middle School
GATE CITY (27-2)
Mac McClung 15-27 9-9 42, Bradley Dean 3-5 4-4 10, John Compton 1-3 2-2 4, Andrew Sharpe 0-1 0-0 0, Zac Ervin 4-5 4-4 12, David George 0-0 0-0 0, Drew Vemillion 0-1 0-0 0, Jonathan Sallee 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-44 19-19 70.
Darrin Martin 13-20 2-3 30, Drew Baker 3-8 0-0 8, Emil Curto 2-4 2-5 7, Ty Gray 0-0 0-0 0, Garrett Dalton 3-4 5-5 11, Nick Owens 1-2 0-0 3, Chance Dawson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-38 9-13 59.
Gate City.............17 16 14 23 — 70
Graham...............12 9 20 18 — 59
3-point goals: GC 3-14 (McClung 3-8, Dean 0-2, Compton 0-2, Vermillion 0-1, Ervin 0-1); GR 6-15 (Martin 2-6, Baker 2-5, Owens 1-2, Curto 1-2). Rebounds: GC 17 (Ervin 7); GR 20 (Dalton 5, Curto 5). Total fouls: GC 14; GR 16. Fouled out: none. Technicals: Graham bench.