Hopewell's Season Ends In Disappointment
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 19, 2014, 22:47
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG — After defeating Petersburg in the opening round of the Conference 26 Tournament, Hopewell had the look of a team rounding into form at the right time. The Blue Devils defense had been stingy, they were taking care of the basketball and were shooting well on the offensive end to lead them to their first winning streak since the end of December.
It all added up to a Hopewell team which was confident in their abilities heading into a semifinal match-up with George Wythe, a team they fell to in their season-opener. Yet, even though their warm-ups were spirited and the team seemed ready to take on the challenge, the Bulldogs would prove to be too much for Hopewell.
George Wythe immediately jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter before the Blue Devils answered with eight straight points to pull within one after eight minutes. But in the second quarter, the Bulldogs would outscore Hopewell 12-to-4 to take a nine-point lead and all the momentum.
The Blue Devils could never fully recover from their lackadaisical effort in the decisive second quarter, digging themselves a deeper hole in the third quarter before eventually falling to George Wythe, 69-51, and seeing their season end in disappointing fashion.
"We had a great shoot-around and the kids were focused, but I think we came out tight," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said after the game. "The second quarter just killed us. It was mental mistakes, some missed bunnies. I think we settled for too many jump-shots ... you can't take bad shots against them because they are going to make you pay in transition."
And it was George Wythe who took advantage of every misstep Hopewell committed throughout the game. The tide changed in a third quarter which saw Hopewell come out of the locker room timid, allowing George Wythe to take control.
The Bulldogs' Brandon Holly scored the first points of the quarter on a long 3-pointer and it was followed by two more long-balls with the last of which coming from Malik White for three of his 15 points during a 9-to-3 run. While St. John called for a timeout aiming to awaken his slumbering team it was to no avail as the Bulldogs' guards had their way with the Hopewell defense.
If it wasn't White or Holly hitting from the outside, it was Kareem Horton Jr. scoring a team-high 17 points as George Wythe seemingly copied their season-opening performance against Hopewell. With little resistance against the penetrating drives, Hopewell could not stop the bleeding.
"We got away from our game-plan early of what we wanted to do against them because we weren't where we wanted to be," St. John explained. "We just couldn't run the things we wanted to do."
However, for a short amount of time during the first quarter the Blue Devils did some of the things they wanted to and it was jump-started by the play of Johnnie Harrison.
All season long Harrison has been a defensive spark-plug for Hopewell and it was no different Wednesday night. The sophomore showed tremendous energy, helping to trap on either side of the court to force the Bulldogs into turnovers while the Blue Devils converted the other way.
Two baskets from Tabyus Taylor later helped the Blue Devils to an 8-0 run and put them right back into the game after the first quarter. However, while Taylor scored 8 of his game-high 20 points in the first quarter, he had none in the second, leading to a 5:40 span of action without a single point for the Blue Devils.
It was the type of demoralizing effort which essentially knocked Hopewell out of contention as the defense could not replicate their effort during the first eight minutes.
"The full- court press against them is tough," St. John said. "I thought they saw our half-court 2-2-1 too often and they figured that out ... we just weren't on the same page."
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
And it showed in an offensive effort which saw just one player in double-digits with Darrell Taylor and Deonte Jones scoring 6 and 5 points respectively as the next leading scorers. Even more disheartening was a 9-of-22 effort from the free-throw line which could have helped Hopewell make the game more competitive.
After earning an emotional win over Petersburg just 48 hours prior and vanquishing a mental hurdle, it seemed Hopewell had spent much of their energy in the effort and were not fully ready for a talented Bulldogs team.
"I don't know if the moment was too big, but it was more of a thing if shots were falling early, we'd have all the confidence in the world," St. John said. "We got behind it a little too early and we tightened up from there."
While Hopewell's season ended in disappointment, it's a team with just two seniors on the roster and the experience of falling just short of qualifying for Regionals is something that will only help heading into next season.