Louisa County had some tough bounces off the glass and rim in the first half, but there was no panic in their game or body language. You wouldn’t have realized the Lions were down by two going into the half. Louisa came out in the second and owned the paint on both ends and while Midlothian had a hot 3-point shooting night in the first, it did not go that way in quarters three and four. From the end of the third and throughout all of the fourth, Malik Bell and Chris Shelton took over to turn a healthy lead into a run away win, 74-48, in the Region 4D quarterfinals.
“In the first half we felt like we missed some layups but got good looks,” said Louisa coach Robert Shelton. “We kept going inside and some of those missed layups wound up getting converted with the guys that typically make those shots. So we hit a few of them and then our defense turned up. Our defense became our offense as well.”
When the Trojans hit a half court shot to end the third and cut the Lions lead to 47-41, it broke up what had been a 10-0 run from the Lions after Xavien Hunter, Shelton and Bell pieced together a strong final three minutes of the third
Louisa shook it off quickly in the fourth with Bell picking up an and-1 one to start the fourth, then scoring again and again on back-to-back plays inside to complete what was 10 straight points from the senior extending from the tail end of the third into the first few minutes of the fourth and make it 54-41. It broke the game open.
“It feels so good because that’s what we work to do, get the ball down low,” Chris Shelton said. “Once you get the ball down low they’re going to start crashing and that’s when it opens up for the shooters which it did tonight. So it feels really good that we execute our game plan.”
From there, the Lions went on a tear. With the game at 57-46, Louisa broke off a 17-2 run to finish the game with Shelton hitting a trio of 3-pointers, and Brandon Smith slamming down a dunk. With Midlothian’s shooting off from the first half and the Lions owning the boards, there was no fouling back into this game and Louisa had little trouble grinding out the clock.
“When Chris is dialed in the game’s going to go our way 100%,” Bell said. “He’s a great shooter and everyone knows that. It’s just (for a defense) how can you find a way to stop it? We just have to keep finding a way to get him open and get him a shot.”
In the first half things were tight. With things locked up at 10-10, Smith, Bell and CJ Williams combined for a 6-0 finish to the first quarter. The Trojans answered in the second and when Henry Davis tied things up at 25-25 with a 3-pointer, baskets from Will Pomeroy and big man Caleb Edwards put the visitors up 29-27 going into the break.
“We got caught with our heads turned a lot in the first,” Shelton said. “Guys were hitting easy shots because we got lost in their offense. In the second half we buckled down and were sound.”
Midlothian was up 36-32 midway through the third but that set up the big run from Hunter, Shelton and Bell to give the Lions a 47-38 lead before Hunter Neff hit his buzzer beater from more than half court to cut it a six point lead going into the fourth.
On the night, the Lions got 22 points out of Shelton fueled by his five 3-pointers in the second half. Bell finished with 21 points and he went 6-for-7 from the free throw line. Smith had 10 points. Williams had six points with all of them in the first half.
Louisa will face Huguenot in the Region 4D semifinals at a neutral site. Stepping into postseason play outside of the Jefferson has given this team a bit of spark just by playing someone new and not for a third and fourth time.
“It’s good for once to have teams not able to call out our plays before we run them,” Shelton said. “Those other (JD) teams have seen them so many times it was refreshing to see that the plays we worked on early in the season are working the first couple of times we call them.”