Devil comeback falls short

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Down by 15 in the first quarter, Grayson closed to within three points in the fourth before fading.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

SALTVILLE -- The rest of the Region C tournament field had to wait for the semifinals until snowbound Grayson County could get its first-round game out of the way. The Blue Devils found themselves in catch-up mode again on Saturday. James River connected on its first 12 shots from the floor and built a 15-point lead after eight minutes, then held off a late Grayson County rally before taking a 72-60 win in the Region C Division 2 semifinals at Northwood High School. The Blue Devils (21-4) were a respectable 5-of-16 from the floor in the first eight minutes – including a pair of 3-pointers – but that was no match for the precision displayed by defending region champion James River. Thanks to repeated looks from inside the paint, the Knights (24-2) didn’t record their first miss until 30 seconds were left in the first quarter. That miss came after they had knocked down 12 straight field goal attempts, including a John Bennett 3-pointer. Patrick Bennett scored 10 of his 17 points in the first period as James River took a 27-12 lead into the second. “We got down right off the get-go,” Grayson County coach Lucas Austin said. “[James River is a] very disciplined and a very smart bunch of basketball players. You get down early like that it’s hard to claw back.”  But the Blue Devils spent the next two-plus quarters doing just that. Mikey Rodgers had two buckets in a 9-0 second-quarter run that drew Grayson to within single digits, and his runner near the end of the period cut the halftime deficit to 35-27. Even though James River missed its final four shots of the second period, the Knights still shot a sizzling 64 percent from the floor (13-of-25) in the first half. “It was kind of like a duel there in the first half,” said James River coach Mike Goad. “We got good penetration, we got good dishes, and we were looking for each other.” James River pulled back out to a 46-33 lead late in the third on Patrick Bennett’s basket from the lane before Grayson County mounted one final push. Starting with Bubba Bowen’s putback at the 1:20 mark of the third, the Blue Devils outscored James River 12-1 to pull to within three points. “I thought we played hard in the second half,” Austin said. “We tried to keep it out of [Knights point guard Ethan] Humphries’ hands, tried to put some pressure on them and speed the tempo up. The kids played hard and showed a lot of guts.” Steven Eller closed the third quarter by finishing a fast break, Jake Blizzard scored off an inbounds play to start the fourth and Eric Harvey swished two free throws. Following a James River free throw, Harvey hit the front of a two-shot foul and Blizzard cleaned up the missed second shot, putting in back in to cut the margin to 48-45 with 6:03 to go. That would be the high-water mark of the night for Grayson County. Humphries dropped in an 18-footer and then fed Patrick Bennett on a fast break layup to start a 14-3 Knight run. “We got some energy from some players coming off the bench and we were able to finish it off, which was good,” Goad said. The Blue Devils missed their next seven shots after closing to within three, and Jordan Talbott’s steal and layup had James River once again sitting on a comfortable lead, up 62-49. The Knights iced it by hitting 8-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes. Humphries played with three stitches above his right eye after catching a shoulder there in a quarterfinal win over Floyd County, but finished with 18 points and a dozen assists. “In those pressure situations you’ve got to have that type of player to take you to the next level,” said Goad. “He did that. He hit the open man under the bucket and we got a lot of high-percentage shots.” Patrick Bennett scored 17 points, Talbott tossed in 13 and John Bennett added nine points and 10 boards. Harvey led all scorers with 20 points, Bowen chipped in 10 and Blizzard provided eight points and eight rebounds. Bowen, Blizzard and Eller, all seniors, depart a team that made a remarkable turnaround from a 3-20 campaign just two years ago. “Those seniors played with a lot of heart and intensity this year,” Austin said. “They can all be proud of themselves. We got beat by a good basketball team. They’ve been here and we haven’t.”   Grayson County......12  15  10  23––60 James River............27   8   12  25––72


Grayson County (21-4) Rutherford 3 0-0 8, Eller 2 1-2 6, Harvey 6 8-10 20, Bowen 2 5-6 10, Blizzard 4 0-0 8, Phipps 0 2-2 2, Rodgers 3 0-0 6. Totals 20 16-20 60. James River (24-2) Humphries 6 6-10 18, J.Bennett 3 2-2 9, Talbott 5 3-4 13, P.Bennett 8 1-2 17, Tucker 2 5-8 9, Hoppe 3 0-0 6. Totals 27 17-26 72.

Three-point field goals – Grayson County 4-19 (Rutherford 2, Eller, Bowen), James River 1-2 (J.Bennett). Rebounds – Grayson County 36 (Blizzard 8), James River 34 (J.Bennett 10). Turnovers – Grayson County 17, James River 16. Team fouls – Grayson County 21, James River 18. Fouled out – none. Technical fouls – none.