By Cam Huffman
Princeton was the only team to beat Greenbrier East on its home floor this season, but the Spartans got revenge where it mattered most.
No. 8 Greenbrier East (20-3) used a pair of double-doubles from Rondale Watson and Obi Romeo to defeat the Tigers 65-58 in a sectional semifinal Wednesday night at the Brushfork Armory and advance to the Class AAA Region 3, Section 2 championship game Friday at the same location.
The Spartans will face a team looking for some revenge as well. Woodrow Wilson defeated Shady Spring in the other semifinal to advance.
Greenbrier East beat the Flying Eagles at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center on Jan. 2, but Friday’s game will clearly be the one that matters most to the two longtime rivals.
“I can’t wait,” said Watson, who finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s win, shaking off a poor performance the last time out in a loss at South Charleston. “This was a big step for us. Everybody has bad games. Kobe (Bryant) has bad games. You just have to get through it. You can’t think about it, you just go out and play.
“We’re going to come out (against Woodrow) and give everything we’ve got. Hopefully we can get the victory.”
Princeton (17-6) seemed to have the perfect game plan when the teams met in Fairlea, using a 2-3 zone to force Watson to settle for outside shots. When he did get to the rim, he almost never got the roll, and Romeo battled foul trouble and frustration most of the game.
Wednesday was a different story. Watson, a junior guard drawing plenty of attention from college scouts, made almost ever shot he took. He was 7-for-9 from the field, 1-for-2 from 3-point range and 14-for-16 from the free throw line, including some big shots down the stretch when Princeton, in desperation mode, was forced to foul.
“We didn’t execute,” said Princeton head coach Ernie Gilliard. “We didn’t do the little things that we did (at Greenbrier East). We didn’t have the same energy.
“We wanted to stop the dribble penetration, but (Watson) was able to get to the rim, and a couple of other kids stepped up and made shots.”
Greenbrier East also found plenty of offense from junior center Obi Romeo. The 6-foot-9 big man, with a wingspan of more than seven feet, stayed out of foul trouble this time, and his presence on the court was felt. In 32 minutes of action, Romeo scored 11 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked two shots.
“We made up our mind we were going to get Obi a ton of touches,” said Spartan head coach Jim Justice. “Once we get the ball in his hands, we get much better looks.”
The biggest difference, though, was on the other end of the floor, where Greenbrier East limited Princeton’s sharp-shooting guards to just 35 percent from the field, including a 4 for 21 mark from 3-point range.
Ahead 26-24 at halftime, Princeton scored only one field goal and three points in the third quarter, as East opened up a 36-26 advantage it never relinquished.
The biggest lead was 13, 51-38 with 3 minutes to go. The Tigers were able to close within six, 58-52 when Derek Jennelle nailed a 3-ball from the corner, but the Spartans converted from the charity stripe to put the game on ice.
“We shot the ball better,” said Justice, who will coach the Greenbrier East girls team tonight against Capital with a trip to the state tournament in Charleston on the line. “Rondale played within himself instead of having some out of body experience. Princeton’s a great team. Somebody has to lose and somebody has to win, I’m glad it was us.”
Senior point guard Bryce Woodliff scored 12 for the Spartans before fouling out in the closing minutes, while Tyler Canterbury added nine.
Princeton, which had won six of its last seven games coming into Wednesday’s sectional semifinal, was led by 26 from its star senior guard, Ryan Meadows. Hunter Walters scored 15 and Jennelle scored 10.
But a strong season — which included the regular season win over the Spartans and two victories over Class AA No. 1 Bluefield, a big rival — ended prematurely.
“We had a good year, but we can’t hang our hat on just having a good year,” said Gilliard. “We want to compete for a championship, so we’re going to go back to work and see if we can’t do that next season.”
East meanwhile, kept alive its dream of its first trip to the state tournament since 2002 and its third since 1985.
“Now nobody has to complain about the seeds or anything,” said Justice. “We’ll play Woodrow and have a chance to show ourselves on Friday night.”
Both Woodrow and Greenbrier East will play in a regional final next week with a trip to Charleston on the line, but Friday’s winner will have the opportunity to play that regional game on its home floor.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Ryan Meadows 9 7-8 26, Derek Jennelle 3 2-4 10, Hunter Walters 5 4-4 15, Kyle Caron 1 1-2 3, Aaron Ferguson 1 0-2 2, Ryan Rogers 0 0-0 0, Storm McPherson 0 0-0 0, Zen Clements 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 14-20 58.
Greenbrier East (20-3)
Tyler Canterbury 2 4-6 9, Maurkese Tripplett 0 0-0 0, Obi Romeo 5 1-4 11, Rondale Watson 7 14-16 29, Bryce Woodliff 2 7-8 12, Owen Browning 1 0-0 3, Evan Ramsey 0 1-2 1, Deante Erskine 0 0-0 0, Dereck Weiford 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 27-36 65.
P 13 13 3 29 — 58
GE 13 11 12 29 — 65
3-pointers — P: 4 (Jennelle 2, Meadows, Walters); GE: 4 (Canterbury, Watson, Woodliff, Browning). Fouled out — P: Jennelle, Clements; GE: Woodliff.