With the game tied 43-all and less than five minutes to play, Greenbrier East’s Josh Tunstalle found himself alone at the top of the key. After first looking to pass, Tunstalle, unable to pass up the wide open shot, skied in the air and pulled the trigger. The ball nipped the rim and then tore through the net as an overflow crowd in Spartan Gym exploded.
Tyler Canterbury found himself in the very same position on the next possession, and when his 3 tickled the twine, the Spartans had a cushion they wouldn’t lose. Class AAA No. 6 East (6-2) held on to beat Class AAA No. 2 Woodrow Wilson 62-49 Saturday night, ending the game with a two-handed exclamation point dunk from Rondale Watson that marked the first time since the 1985 and 1986 seasons that the Spartans have knocked off the rival Flying Eagles in back-to-back years.
“It was a great win,” said Watson, a Wake Forest signee who finished with a game-high 25 points to go along with nine rebounds. “I’m glad we got this one out of the way, because when it comes to sectional seeding, we should have the top seed if everything goes right. That could be a big advantage.
“It was a big win, and I’m happy we got it.”
Woodrow (1-2), playing without starting point guard and first-team all-stater Donte Nabors — who is still recovering from an ankle injury — used relentless defensive pressure to build a 16-12 lead after the opening quarter, but with Nabors on the bench, the scoring wasn’t there down the stretch.
The Flying Eagles battled foul trouble with an already short bench, as Jaylon Breckenridge and Chase Hancock both fouled out and Nequan Carrington ended with four fouls in what was an extremely physical and emotional contest.
Woodrow shot just 34 percent from the field in the second half and turned the ball over 17 times.
“I can’t believe we only had 17 turnovers,” said Flying Eagle head coach Ron Kidd. “It seemed like a lot more. I guess they just all came at key times.”
The Spartans turned it over 23 times on the other end, but it was East’s shooting down the stretch that made the difference. The Spartans shot 58 percent in the second half, getting good looks thanks to ball movement and transition basketball.
“We got some more movement and got the hustle balls,” said Watson of the final minutes. “And I thank my teammates for making their free throws down the stretch.”
But it was the play of Tunstalle, who spent last season at Wyoming East, that made the biggest difference for the home team. The senior finished with 17 points and four rebounds, giving East another scoring option to go along with Watson and St. Joseph’s signee Obi Romeo, who finished with eight points and 12 rebounds.
“(On Thursday) I told him his mind was getting in the way of his performance,” said Spartan head coach Jim Justice. “There were times he had open looks and didn’t take them. There were times he did something poorly and dropped his head.
“I told him he had to get that out of him and get some consistency. He came out (Friday) night (against Liberty Christian) and did it, and it just filtered over. He played a great game.”
The battle between two AAA powers certainly lived up to the hype. Fans had to be turned away trying to get into a gym that included extra chairs on the stage and in the wings, and the game was tight from start to finish. The score was tied 10 times, and the lead changed hands on five occasions, with neither team ever leading by more than seven until the final three minutes of the game.
Rebounding, where East ended the game with a 40-22 advantage, and foul shooting, where the Spartans made 19 of 30 shots, also played a big role in the outcome. Woodrow managed to get to the line only nine times and made just four of those attempts.
“We didn’t shoot as many, but when they went, they made them,” said Kidd. “When we went, we missed. That was big for us.”
East didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from 3-point range, but the two bombs in the final minutes, as well as a strong defensive effort, helped put the win on ice.
“We ended up beating them at their game,” said Justice. “We zoned them in the beginning, and they were putting it to us. We were in trouble, and we switched to a man the rest of the game. That’s what did it for us. To hold them to 49, you have to be doing something right defensively.
“It was just an incredible high school game.”
Woodrow ended the game with 11 points each from Breckenridge and Hancock, as well as 10 from Dai Dai Fortune, but the Flying Eagles simply ran out of scoring options down the stretch.
The 2013 Class AAA runners-up will look to bounce back Tuesday when they travel to St. Albans.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Kidd. “We’re still a work in progress.”
Greenbrier East will host defending Class AA champion Bluefield on Friday.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Woodrow Wilson (1-2)
Corey Acord 2-7 0-0 4, Nick Deems 1-1 0-0 2, Jaylon Breckenridge 5-17 0-3 11, Chase Hancock 5-6 0-0 11, Dai Dai Fortune 4-9 0-0 10, Noah Hancock 0-5 4-4 4, Nequan Carrington 2-7 0-2 4, Tarek Payne 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 20-54 4-9 49.
Greenbrier East (6-2)
Ty Walker 1-2 1-2 3, Rondale Watson 8-15 7-11 25, Isaiah Kinder 2-6 0-1 4, Ben Allen 1-3 0-0 2, Josh Tunstalle 3-5 9-10 17, Kamen Reynolds 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Canterbury 1-5 0-0 3, Obi Romeo 3-5 2-6 8. Totals 19-41 19-30 62.
WW 16 11 14 8 — 49
GE 12 15 16 19 — 62
3-point goals — WW: 5 (Breckenridge, Hancock, Payne, Fortune 2). GE: 5 (Watson 2, Tunstalle 2, Canterbury. Fouled out — WW: Hancock, Breckenridge. GE: None.