In front of a raucous crowd, J.I. Burton held on for a 55-52 victory over Wise Central in the semifinals of the Grand Home Furnishings Holiday Classic at the Virginia-Wise Prior Center.
Burton (8-2) will play Union (3-2) today in the tournament championship game. Union, led by Connor Giza’s 21 points and eight rebounds, advanced with an 84-76 win over Honaker (5-2).
Central (4-4) led Burton 32-25 at the halfway mark, but the Raiders used a quick second- half start to outscore the Warriors 15-6 in the third quarter and move ahead 40-38.
“It was emotional and I thought in the first half we tried to play cautious and we got out-scrapped,” said Burton coach Aaron Williams. “It wasn’t because we didn’t want to win or we didn’t want to win bad. It was because we were trying to do everything perfect. And at halftime we just talked about let’s just let it go and play hard, and we did that. That’s what it was. Just a good effort and just playing.”
Central coach T.J. McAmis had different thoughts on the second-half play.
“There’s a lot of calls at the start of the third quarter. We couldn’t get out and break. All of the sudden it was closely called and the momentum stopped and we couldn’t get out and run the tempo. The game changed in the third quarter,” McAmis said. “There were a lot of quick calls that weren’t called like that in the first half and the next thing you know the game is walking up and down the floor.
“We had three or four layups at the end of the game we missed and we missed free throws. You can’t do that and win.”
Despite the schools’ proximity, McAmis said it wasn’t an emotional game for the Warriors.
“It’s not been much of a rivalry for us the last few times. But they were ready to play and I think that played into it,” he said. “I think it’s been six or seven years since they have beaten us and these kids didn’t play with a lot of emotion and (the Raiders) did, and that was a big part of it.”
Caleb Williams’ 15 points led Burton. Houston Thacker had 13 and Austin Lane 11.
Central’s Dalton Mullins led all scorers with 18 points and Ben Stallard added 10.
Union entered the tournament with questions following the loss of team leader Wes Slagle to a season-ending knee injury earlier this month.
“We’re just trying to figure it out as we go because it’s not going to be overnight that we know exactly what we’re going to do,” Bears coach Zack Moore said. “Wes is the type of kid that is the face of our program. He’s the type of kid that you want leading the program. He’s as good a kid as we’ve ever had and we’ve had great kids. But he’s a program builder for us.
“I hate it’s happened to him,” Moore said, “but he’s handled it well and he will continue to handle it well.”
The injury forced the Bears to change their approach to the game.
“We’re playing more people. Everybody on our team has played for the last two nights,” Moore said. “We’ve just kind of demanded more effort and to play harder. We’re subbing more. We’re trying to create more offense with defense.”
Also part of the plan is getting the ball to Virginia Tech football signee James Mitchell.
“He’s a great player. Tonight, he had six points but 10 assists, seven rebounds and guarded one of their better players. He just does a lot for us,” Moore said.
Alex Rasnick, with 21 points, and Justin Falin, with 14, contributed to Union’s scoring.
The Bears led 40-29 by halftime, but Honaker (5-2) scored the first six points of the third quarter to pull to within single digits. The lead stayed under 10 for the remainder of the game though the Tigers could get no closer than five.
Brandon Sample led four Tigers in double-figure scoring with 21 points. Grayson Honaker had 17, and Brett Boyd and Blake Stinson added 15 each.
In consolation bracket action Friday, Rye Cove (4-5) got 19 points from Trey Pennington, 15 points and 21 rebounds — two shy of a tournament record — from Holton Carter and 14 points and 11 rebounds from Chase Love on the way to a 58-43 win over Grundy.
Cade Looney had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Jacob McCoy finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Golden Wave (1-7).