BIG STONE GAP — Union coach Zack Moore was acutely aware that the Bears were in for a challenge when they drew John Battle for Wednesday night’s Region D, Division 2 boys tournament quarterfinal game.
His players got on the same page just in the nick of time.
Colby Addington scored 18 points and Tyler Vernon added 14 as the No. 4 Bears held off the No. 5 Trojans 47-39 at Union.
Union (18-7) led 24-15 at the half. But highly athletic Battle dropped into to a zone defense and scrapped itself into contention.
Headed into the fourth quarter after scoring only seven points in the third, it was by no means evident the Bears would survive the night.
“I thought we went through a stretch where there was no sense of urgency,” said Moore, whose team didn’t put the game out of reach until going 5-for-6 on the free throw line during the final minute and a half of play.
“Balls were laying on the floor. Long rebounds, we weren’t going and getting them. They were getting them all.”
Moore sternly reminded his players that Wednesday’s game might very well be the proverbial “it.” Lose this one and there was no tomorrow, no second chance.
After a pair of Matthew McMurray free throws put the Trojans up 37-34 with just under four minutes on the clock, Moore’s seniors didn’t need to be reminded a second time.
“Me and Colby knew it could possibly be our last game. We didn’t want that to happen,” said Vernon, who factored far larger in the final three minutes than the two free throws he contributed for the final margin with 33.4 seconds showing.
The 6-foot-7 post kicked the ball out to Logan Mullins for a game-tying 3-pointer, finding Addington open on the perimeter on the subsequent possession for the go-ahead trifecta.
Those two big buckets lit the fuse for all of the Bears on both ends of the floor. Moments later Desmond Burney swatted the ball loose and poked it to Addington to initiate transition. The Union wing didn’t get the layup (or the foul) but trailing teammate Noah Davis got the rebound and stuck it in before Moore even had time to object.
The Bears defense nullified two more consecutive Trojans possessions with five-second calls on the in-bounds. On Battle’s last meaningful possession, Vernon came up with a huge shot block, diverting the desperate, off-balance follow-up shot with his long arms.
“At first when we were playing (Vernon) man-to-man he started hurting us low, so we switched to a zone,” said Battle coach Tim Sholes. “But you’ve got to give him credit. He played real well just getting the ball and dishing out to the outside shooters. And they hit some shots, guys.”
Alex Posey scored 11 points for the Trojans (13-11).
Vernon blocked four shots for Union. Burney had seven rebounds and handed it off for assists four times.
The Bears have made no secret of their ambition to return to the VHSL Group A state tournament. But there’s little danger that they’re anything less than focused on Friday’s much-anticipated semifinal showdown with Gate City.
“I think we match up great with Gate City and I look forward to playing them,” Addington said. “Everyone around here thinks they’re the best team around. I’d just like to beat them and show that we’re the best team.”comments powered by Disqus