By Cam Huffman
Two of the state’s top seven Class AAA boys basketball powers will punch their tickets to the state tournament tonight, while the other two will see their seasons end. That’s life in Region 3, where No. 3 Woodrow Wilson will host No. 7 George Washington and No. 2 South Charleston will host No. 6 Greenbrier East in a pair of region co-finals tonight.
The winners move on. The losers pack up their gear.
“This is no easy region,” said Woodrow Wilson head coach Ron Kidd, whose team earned the right to host tonight’s game after a Section 2 win over Greenbrier East last Thursday. “All the teams are tough.”
The Flying Eagles (20-4) at least won’t have to face the Section 1 champion. George Washington (18-6) fell to South Charleston in that title game on Saturday. But the Patriots would probably be champions in many sections around the state, and their lineup includes possible state player of the year Jon Elmore, who’s averaging more than 30 points per game to lead the state.
Kidd knows Elmore well. The GW guard, who has signed to play college basketball at VMI, scored 34 points against the Flying Eagles when the teams met Feb. 4, a 69-62 Woodrow victory.
“He’s a hard person to guard,” said Kidd. “He can handle the ball, and he has a lot of range on his shot. He can take one step across half court and shoot it.”
Kidd, though, is confident in the defense of Chase Hancock, who’s one of the state’s top defenders, and the rest of his team. He also knows he has the weapons to match the Patriots on offense.
Senior Donte Nabors, a first-team all-stater last year, scored 21 points the last time against GW, 16 in the second half. He’s averaging more than 17 per game.
“I think our kids can match up with anybody,” said Kidd. “They’re scrappy and play with heart and desire.”
Rebounding, Kidd said, will be a huge factor in tonight’s game. He also said that while he knows Elmore will score, his team has to make sure it doesn’t put all its attention on the star and let another Patriot beat them.
It’s been a tremendous season for Woodrow, but Kidd knows it will end in disappointment if the Flying Eagles don’t find a way to earn the win tonight.
“This is what you play your regular season for, to try to get to the next step,” he said. “This is another step toward our ultimate goal of cutting down the nets.”
Tip-off for tonight’s Region 3 co-final is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, where Woodrow has not lost this season.
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Greenbrier East made its path to Charleston a little more difficult with the 63-46 Section 2 final loss to the Flying Eagles. The Spartans (18-6) will now have to go through one of the more challenging home court environments in the state — the South Charleston Community Center — if they want to be included in the eight-team state tournament bracket. It’s a task they couldn’t complete a year ago, when the Black Eagles knocked off East 58-50 in the region co-final.
South Charleston (23-1) has won 19 straight games since its only loss of the season, a 72-71 setback at Capital in early January. It hasn’t played cupcakes, either, as the streak has included two wins each over George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.
Justice, though, believes his team, which includes a pair of Division I signees and has wins over Woodrow Wilson, Lewis County, Bluefield and Martinsburg included on its resumé, has what it takes to compete with anybody.
“This is the game you have to win,” said Justice, who will also be taking the Greenbrier East girls team to Charleston for the state tournament this week. “It would have been great to have beaten Woodrow and played at home, but we’ve still got a real shot. Our kids have bounced back well. You never know how it’s going to go, but I’ve been really pleased with our practices. We certainly haven’t hung our heads.”
Wake Forest signee Rondale Watson is one of the state’s top talents, and St. Joseph’s signee Obi Romeo is a matchup problem on both ends of the floor.
“I think Obi can hold his own with their big kid,” said Justice. “And nobody is going to stop Rondale 1-on-1. He’ll be the best player on the floor.”
South Charleston, though, has its own playmaker in sophomore guard Brandon Knapper. The 6-foot-1 standout scored 40 points in a win over Woodrow Wilson earlier this season and is averaging just under 20 per game. He’s almost automatic when he gets to the foul line.
Junior forward A.D. Cunningham is another big scoring threat.
“They’ve got multiple people coming at you that can really shoot,” said Justice, who had an opportunity to watch the GW-South Charleston game and scout his upcoming opponent. “They’re really fast, and they hit the glass really hard. They also have an inside presence.”
Justice said he saw a basketball team that may have even more talent than the Woodrow squad that just beat the Spartans, but he didn’t see quite the tenacity and defensive toughness that he saw from the Flying Eagles, who often made East start its offense from halfcourt.
“I think we’ll be able to handle their pressure better than Woodrow’s pressure,” he said. “Our challenge will be not giving them easy stuff on the glass on putbacks and making sure we contest their outside shooting. We have to slow them down in transition and deny them the offensive glass.”
Justice said he expects typical nights from Watson and Romeo, but the key will be getting solid contributions from others like Josh Tunstalle, Isaiah Kinder and Tyler Canterbury.
“We’re going to shake up our lineup a little bit,” he said. “We have to be able to fill in the gaps and get good, solid performances out of our other kids.”
Tip-off in South Charleston is scheduled for 7 p.m.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.