RICHMOND — Gate City anticipated that Radford would be a tough opponent in Saturday’s VHSL Group A, Division 2 state championship game. But it didn’t count on Bobcats guard Dee Cook figuring so prominently.
“No, he didn’t show up on our report,” Blue Devils basketball coach Scott Vermillion said with an ironic chuckle.
Radford coach Rick Cormany made a last-minute decision to put Cook into the starting lineup. The 5-foot-11 junior guard went on to lead the Bobcats with 20 points en route to a 72-58 state championship victory at VCU’s Siegel Center.
“We wanted to go to a smaller lineup because we wanted to pull Gate City’s big boy (Andy Arnold) away from the basket. We waited until right at game time to make that change to see if we could mess with them a little bit so he couldn’t just sit in there and goaltend and change all of our shots. He’s a great player,” said Cormany, who led Radford (28-2) to its third state title in five years.
The smaller lineup — and Radford’s deeper bench — wore on Gate City’s legs. So did foul trouble. Arnold and Luke Ervin, who led the Blue Devils with 17 points, were two of Gate City’s most conspicuously physical players. The game saw 18 lead changes and stayed mostly within two possessions before Arnold and Ervin picked up their fourth fouls within minutes of one another.
It made all the difference in the world. By Josh Little’s transition layup two minutes later, Radford led 57-47 and was solidly in command.
Little, the team captain, was late bloomer, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth frame. He also had eight rebounds in the game. Isaiah Phillips scored 14 points for the Bobcats.
Arnold had 11 points when he picked up his fifth foul with 3:53 remaining in the game.
“I’m disappointed that we lost,” said a dejected Arnold. “I don’t know. I’ve never felt this way before.”
Vermillion said his team may have failed to win a state championship, but it was still comprised of winners.
“This game doesn’t define them, it doesn’t define me, it doesn’t define our school. I think what defines us is the character we played with, the heart that we played with and certainly the dedication these guys have shown to me, our community and our program,” said Vermillion, who thought the Bobcats’ depth was a factor late in the game.
Radford had 40 points in the paint to Gate City’s 26. The Bobcats did a good job disrupting the Blue Devils’ passing lanes.
Gate City had 17 assists as a team against William Monroe late Thursday night but had only seven Saturday. Guard Dylan Jenkins, who scored 16 points for the Blue Devils (25-6), had only one dish on the day — well below his average.
Sophomore guard Caleb Herron gave Gate City 15 intense minutes off the bench, his clutch contributions showing up off the score sheet. Michael Collier led the Blue Devils on the boards with seven rebounds. Arnold grabbed six boards and blocked only one shot.
“I personally thought we were going to win today. I knew it was going to be tough,” said Vermillion, who also took Gate City to Final Four appearances in 2005, 2007 and 2008. “I thought we had the pieces to win today. I was kind of surprised in ’05 and ’07, we probably should’ve won then. But in ’08 we played a George Wythe team that was a little better than us.”