A young Henrico Warriors team learns a difficult, but amazingly common lesson Saturday night.
Hit your free throws, experience victory.
Instead, Henrico shot 7-of-13 from the charity stripe in regulation, 1-2 during overtime, an overtime that wouldn't have been necessary with better shooting.
The Warriors will spend the next few days wondering what might have been. Instead, they finish as runners-up in the 2013 Henrico Holiday Hoops Tournament, falling 70-64 in overtime to 5A North favorite Potomac. The Panthers move to 10-0 and win the tournament after falling to the Warriors in the title game a year ago.
Five Panthers were in double figures, none more important though than Torrey Dixon, who hit three critical three-point shots after intermission, part of his 16 points off the bench. Dixon was the leading scorer, followed by Tariq Felder with 13, Xavier Laws with 12, and both Keijon Honore and Trey Porter with 10.
Porter fired up the Potomac faithful who made the trip down I-95 with two dunks in the first 40 seconds, and early on, the Panthers threatened to break the game wide open, up 11-4. But senior co-captain Ryan Pearson singlehandedly kept his team in the game. His NBA-length trey completed an 8-0 run by himself to retake the lead at 12-11 with a minute left. Potomac subsequently scored to lead 13-12 after one period.
Pearson scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. The Panthers showed fatigue midway through the second, but Henrico couldn't take advantage. They led by as many as four, but saw the Panthers take it away, Potomac leading 29-27 at intermission. Pearson almost ended his first half performance with an 80-foot shot. It went off the backboard and rim before falling to the court.
The Warriors quickly took the lead starting the third, a 7-2 run included Monte Buckingham's first trey of the night. Potomac fought back, retook the edge, then Jordan English had his moment in the sun. A steal, double fake down low and lay-up tied the game at 41, then, after a Wallace basket, English got the ball in the final seconds, going coast-to-coast including a beautiful behind-the-back dribble racing down the far sideline, the lay-in beating the buzzer. 45-41 Henrico with eight minutes to go.
The "Laws" of the Panthers took over early 4th quarter. Xavier Laws nailed one three-pointer to cut a 48-44 lead to one with 5:22 left, then hit another with 2:55 left to tie the game at 50-50. What next ensued was almost three minutes of frantic basketball.
Both teams scored five in the next 90 seconds, but Pearson got open and nailed the trey for a 58-55 Warriors lead at 1:20 left. Dixon responded, ice water flowing through his veins. His three-pointer tied it at 58 with 37 seconds left.
Buckingham drove the lane and drew a foul with :29.2 to go, and he hit two free throws. The Panthers advanced to midcourt and called time to draw up the game-tying, or championship-winning, shot.
They opted to go to Tournament MVP Randall Haynes, who hit the lane and nailed a turnaround jumper with nine seconds left. Then, Potomac made its defensive stand of the night, as Henrico couldn't advance the ball to midcourt, much less get off a good shot for the victory. Buckingham's half-court prayer went off the front of the rim.
Potomac took control in overtime, going on a 9-0 after a Tony Daniels free throw with 2:42 left (he went 1-for-2). The Panthers hit a three-pointer, then the 6-foot-9 inch George Mason recruit, Porter, took over. He blocked a Buckingham shot, forcing the Warriors to foul. Potomac went 6-for-6 in the final 31 seconds at the line. It wasn't the only defensive play by Porter, as he changed shots and directions of Warrior drives to seal the victory in the extra stanza.
Henrico falls to 8-2, but, even in the loss, the young Warriors, who lost seven of their top nine scorers to graduation from the 2013 state Group AAA championship team, have positioned themselves as a force to be reckoned with again at the state level come spring.
In fact, if the Warriors and Panthers meet again, say, at the Siegel Center in early March, very few prognosticators, and no one in attendance tonight at Henrico High School, would be surprised at all.
Buckingham joined Glen Allen's Grayson Midulla on the All-Tournament Team. Midulla and the Jaguars won the 5th Place Game handily over rival Hermitage earlier in the evening 61-42. Midulla scored 18, Tre'shawn Blackston had 15 for Glen Allen (6-4). KeAndre Robinson led the Panthers (2-7) with 15 points.
In a showdown of two of the top girls' teams in the Central Region, Highland Springs went to Chester and knocked off L.C. Bird on their home floor 74-67.
Tia Byrd knocked down five three-pointers, leading the Springers (7-1) with 17 points, sharing that honor with E'shay Winfield, who also had 17. Najai Pollard had 15 points, Bri Justice added 12.
Highland Springs returns to action at home Tuesday, January 7th against arch-rival Varina.
Meanwhile, the Glen Allen girls captured the 2013 Clover Hill Holiday Tournament title, routing Conference 20 rival Hanover 75-22.
In other boys action, in the 3rd Place Game of the Fort Lee Holiday Tournament, Varina defeated Prince George, 64-48. Desmond Dowling had 16 points, while Donovan Dowling added 12 for the Blue Devils, now 3-5.