Under Mitch Minor, Charlottesville has always played at break neck pace. So maybe that’s why the last half of the fourth quarter felt a little unnatural for the Black Knights, as they spent most of the frame simply trying to dribble out the clock and hold hosting Louisa County to as few shots as possible. In the end, it all worked out though for Charlottesville as it hit just enough of its free throws and the defense came up with a turnover in the final seconds to pick up a 49-48 win in Mineral.
“It wasn’t exactly a stall, we were really just trying to protect the ball and run some time off and look for a layup or foul,” Minor said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games this year. (Louisa) is a great team and at our place it was almost the same score. Our guys really competed tonight and it just shows what they’re capable of if they put to total effort into the game.”
The pace was decidedly different in the first half. The Black Knights pressed hard, flew up and down the court with the Lions doing the same and took a 16-12 lead into the second thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore Zymir Faulkner.
“It started with the defense,” Faulkner said. “We know that (Louisa) is an offensive team that loves to get up and down the floor so that’s what we tried to do tonight. We were just trying to stop Chris Shelton, the number one scorer in the district. We just wanted to keep him under 20.”
In the second quarter, Charlottesville extended its lead, holding Shelton to just four first half points while Faulkner hit a trio of second frame field goals before Daimon Washington banked in a three quarter court shot at the buzzer to make it 32-24 going into the break.
“We didn’t score well in the third quarter but in the first half I thought we did a good job playing defense and taking Louisa out of their rhythm,” Minor said. “They started setting a lot of screens but we did a good job of getting out of them. They didn’t get good looks all night.”
Louisa came out in the third quarter and got to work whittling down on the visitors lead. Shelton got rolling offensively with nine in the frame while Xavien Hunter got the job done at the free throw line to make it a 1-point game going to the fourth.
“It was a tale of two halves for us,” said Louisa coach Robert Shelton. “We dug ourselves a hole but then came out in the third quarter and I thought we recovered, played well. But sometimes in those situations you exert a lot of energy getting back. That’s why you can’t dig a hole against good teams.”
The Lions took their first lead of the second half with 6:53 to play when Hunter dropped in a floater. However, the lead was short lived and back-to-back field goals from Nic Motley and Lewis Tate put Charlottesville up by three. After a bucket from Kishon Gray made it a 4-point lead with 2:20 to play, the Black Knights went to work on the clock.
Louisa fouled its way back into a 1-point game after Reggie Cosby hit a pair of free throws. After Faulkner went 1-for-2 at his next trip to the free throw line, the Lions got the ball back with a chance to win it. However, an entry pass into the paint was picked off by Faulkner with 1.9 seconds and the Black Knights were able to finally dribble the clock down to zeros.
“When I got to the free throw line I was kind of nervous, everybody talking, everyone yelling,” Faulkner said. “I missed it but then I knew I had to make a play. I saw the ball come off (a Louisa hand) and I had to grab it.”
On the night, Faulkner led all scorers with 18 points. Lewis Tate finished with eight points while Motley chipped in six. Isaiah and Daimon Washington both finished with five points.
“I thought Lewis did a great job tonight rebounding and he also had some stick backs, so that was big,” Minor said.
For the Lions, Hunter had a team high 13 points while Shelton finished with 11. Isaac Haywood and Mark Carter both contributed six points.
“When the shots don’t fall for you, it comes down to who’s tougher, who wants it more” Shelton said. “Tonight they were tougher than we were. We had to match their intensity and I think the same thing happened at Charlottesville but we squeaked out with the win instead. That came back to bite us tonight.”
The Black Knights will host Orange County while Louisa will remain at home with Monticello with both games set for Friday at 7:30 p.m.