Louisa County’s boys basketball team got its season underway a few weeks late due to its football team’s run to the state final last month.
But Lions head coach Robert Shelton didn’t see that as a negative thing. Quite the contrary. Instead, he welcomed the challenge.
The Lions took another step toward overcoming that atypical start to the season by erasing a five-point halftime deficit and knocking down 26 of 31 free throws to escape Crozet in a 66-63 overtime slugfest over Western Albemarle.
“Both teams played extremely hard, and both teams probably deserved to win,” Shelton said. “Fortunately we were on top in this one. Malik is one of them, but we have six others who came off the football field and had success. I don’t mind those guys going deep in the playoffs because that winning is going to carry over. We saw a testament to how they react when the game is on the line.”
Malik Bell, who quarterbacked the Lions to their state runner-up finish, paced the Louisa attack with 16, leading four scorers in double figures. Chris Steppe added 15, while Anthony Nelson and Chris Shelton had 10 apiece.
The Lions were a perfect 10 for 10 from the line in the extra session, which Nelson forced when he buried a three from the corner with a minute to go.
The Warriors drew up a solid play for the last shot, but Teo Rampini’s floater in the lane wouldn’t go and Jed Strickland’s desperation heave at the horn was nowhere close.
Rampini led the Warriors with a game-high 20 before fouling out in overtime. Strickland added 16, including a pivotal three-point play with six minutes to go in a tense final quarter that began with a 36-36 deadlock and featured three ties and a pair of lead changes.
“We just wanted it more,” Bell said. “We made better decisions, grinded it out on defense and stayed disciplined. Having a tough time during football helps us stay humble and stay focused in pressure situations.”
Nelson and Steppe knocked down a pair of free throws each to give the Lions an early lead in overtime and maintained a four-point advantage until a 5-0 Western burst culminated in a driving layup by Garrett Payne with 26 seconds to go, making it 63-62.
But Bell hustled downcourt and drew a foul, calmly sinking a pair sandwiched around a Western timeout with 22 seconds left. The Warriors hurried the other way just as quickly, but CJ Williams got a hand on a Chris McGahren three-pointer and then sank two foul shots of his own for a three-point advantage.
Western had one final chance and Gabe Nafziger got a great look from just to the left of the key, but his shot went halfway down and rimmed out as the buzzer sounded.
The Warriors led 24-19 at the half which was the largest margin for either side in the opening two quarters. WAHS, which forced 10 first-half turnovers, finished the second quarter on a 6-0 run. Louisa shot just two free throws in the first half, with Bell splitting the pair midway through the first quarter.
“We made it a point at halftime to emphasize going to the line and being aggressive,” Shelton said. “We had to match [Western’s] intensity. I’m proud that the guys came in and responded to that.”
Louisa’s defense limited Payne and McGahren to seven and five points, respectively. The Warriors went 18-for-34 from the line and got there on just one possession in overtime.