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Waller, Thomas Dale Rally Past Hopewell
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Dec 13, 2012, 20:33

Thomas Dale point guard A.J. Holliday (21) looks to score in transition as Hopewell guards Tabyus Taylor (20) and Donovan Ennis (10) defend during a Central District game on Tuesday in Chester. The Knights rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to win 71-62 (photo by David Breidenbach).

CHESTER – A spirited conversation took place in the Thomas Dale locker room on Tuesday, though the story of the exchange varies depending on who you ask.

The Knights appeared to be overmatched in the second quarter of a Central District clash with visiting Hopewell and trailed by nine at halftime. Thomas Dale coach Eddie Goss said he used the break as an opportunity to urge his team to pick up the intensity.

“I went in at halftime and challenged them by saying, ‘Hey, you’re better than that. That’s not the team you are,’” Goss said.

Thomas Dale senior Kavon Waller put it more succinctly. “Oh my goodness,” he said with a smile. “Coach chewed us out.”

The veteran coach’s tongue-lashing did the trick. Buoyed by Waller’s 19 second-half points, the Knights rallied to claim a 71-62 comeback victory in Chester.

Waller – who had only two of his 21 points at the intermission – drained a series of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, each one further diminishing Hopewell’s chances of regaining the lead.

“In the first quarter, I really didn’t shoot much,” Waller said. “I was looking to get to the hole by pump faking. And Coach told me to stop getting ahead of myself, to just slow down and shoot the ball. That’s what I did.”

Thomas Dale sophomore Andrien White also came alive to score eight points in the fourth quarter. The Knights’ late surge overshadowed a 24-point performance from Hopewell junior Tabyus Taylor.

Thomas Dale led by four at the end of a see-saw opening quarter, but the cushion didn’t last long. The Blue Devils wreaked havoc on the Knights’ ball handlers with their trademark defensive pressure and took a 24-22 lead on Donovan Ennis’ transition layup with five minutes remaining in the first half.

Moments later, Taylor single-handedly pushed the gap to 35-26 by scoring the final seven points of the second frame. The barrage included a trey from the left wing and two fastbreak buckets.

“We went through a three-minute stretch at the end of the first half where we just kind of backed down,” Goss said.

Cue the resurgence, which was fueled by Thomas Dale’s newly discovered ability to break Hopewell’s full-court press and hastened by errors from the visiting team. The deficit grew to 11 before Waller canned a runner and 3-pointer in quick succession that made the score 39-33.

Another in-rhythm 3 from Waller pulled the Knights to within one at 43-42, and Joseph Smith gave Thomas Dale its hard-earned lead with back-to-back buckets moments later.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils struggled to crack the Knights’ zone defense and could only muster five field goals in the third quarter.

“We started taking bad shots,” said Hopewell coach Reggie Simon. “I thought that contributed to the momentum swing, our poor decision making.”

But, just as the Knights showed their moxie in the third quarter, the Blue Devils responded with similar vigor in the fourth. Malik Monds capped a 6-0 run for Hopewell by banking home a short runner that gave the visitors a 53-51 lead.

Waller put Thomas Dale back out front with consecutive 3-pointers, however, and the Knights never trailed again.

“When he’s shooting it, he can stroke it,” Goss said of Waller. “He’s a pretty good player.”

The senior guard was at it again with four minutes remaining, knocking down his third shot from beyond the arc in a two-minute span. The last was the easiest of the bunch as Waller was left all alone on the perimeter.

“That’s our fault,” Simon said. “We weren’t paying attention to detail and we weren’t focused enough to know who was going to hurt us. We were losing people.”

White punctuated the come-from-behind win with a steal and emphatic dunk in transition that sealed Hopewell’s fate.

In addition to his team-high point tally, Waller pulled down seven rebounds and dished out five assists while Thomas Dale junior Collin Fleischer added 16 points and nine boards. White’s multi-dimensional performance yielded 15 points, eight rebounds, seven steals and six assists.

Tack on the steady hand of point guard A.J. Holliday, who racked up seven assists on the night, and Goss thinks he has a winning combination.

“I think the guy that glues us is A.J. Holliday,” Goss said. “He might not score a lot of points, but he keeps us together and gets the ball to the right person.”

With the win, Thomas Dale moved to 3-0 in district play and 5-2 overall.

Sophomore Darrell Taylor scored 12 points and hauled in six rebounds for Hopewell, which fell to 4-2 (2-1 district).

HOPE: Ennis 7, Holloway 5, Saunders 0, T. Taylor 24, O. Taylor 0, Fernandez 4, K. Taylor 0, Monds 8, D. Taylor 12, Bryant 2. Totals: 25 7-10 62. 3-pointers: T. Taylor 3, Ennis, Holloway.

DALE: Smith 8, White 15, Waller 21, Fleischer 16, Holliday 6, Clark 5. Totals: 28 9-18 71. 3-pointers: Waller 5, Smith.

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