The idea that it’s very difficult to beat the same team three times in a season is a cliche at this point because there’s an inherent truth to it.
Western Albemarle, which already owned two wins over Charlottesville this season, nearly proved that point true Friday night. The Warriors had defeated CHS by seven at Charlottesville to kick off Jefferson District play and won again in the Holiday Hoops Tournament on their home floor on Dec. 28.
Friday night’s third meeting, also in Crozet, was closer. But thanks to late heroics from two sources — one likely, the other not so much — the Warriors held on and escaped with a 50-47 win.
Senior captain Chris McGahren hit a tiebreaking three-pointer with a minute-and-a-half to go, then Western got back-to-back layups from sophomore Tommy Mangrum sandwiched around a three-point play from Charlottesville’s Sam Neale that got the Black Knights back within two.
“Chris came up big late, I thought we showed some toughness down the stretch,” Western coach Darren Maynard said. “We screwed up some of our own stuff as we lost a working margin there, but there’s a reason there’s that saying — this one was a war.”
Western led nearly throughout, turning a one-point halftime advantage into a 35-26 lead thanks in large part to two breakaway, one-handed dunks from McGahren, electrifying a Western student section that dressed as cowboys and cowgirls for the occasion. Mangrum, who had 15 to lead the Warriors, had a layup and a pair of free throws in the period, part of the decisive advantage the Warriors held in the interior.
“We know they’re a lot bigger than we are, and we have to do a better job of boxing out,” Charlottesville coach Mitch Minor said. “They got to the ball quicker than we did. It’s just a matter of heart, desire and instinct, and being in the right position. We’re trying, but I guess we’ve got to try harder.”
But the Knights, as they did in the first half, began to chip away. Tyree Carter beat the third-quarter buzzer with a three that clanged off the rim, bounced off the window and through to make it 39-36 Western after three. Charlottesville quickly gained its first lead when Isaiah Washington split a pair and Neale hit two free throws to open the fourth, then after McGahren missed a front end of his own, Jibron Barnett scored to make it 41-39.
McGahren, however, quickly atoned for his mistake by sinking a pair at the other end to tie it up again and the Warriors never trailed after that. After Nic Motley scored on the other end for the Knights, McGahren took a feed from Jed Strickland off a curl and buried it from 23 feet.
The Black Knights had a final opportunity at the end when Washington got his own rebound after missing the back end of a one-and-one with seven seconds remaining, but Mangrum played great defense on him and, despite missing both free throws on the other end, Strickland corralled an offensive board as time expired.
“I thought Jed played phenomenal,” Maynard said. “He had the Neale assignment and did a heck of a job. Chris had the Motley assignment and he also did a heck of a job. I think this gets us ready for postseason play — no one’s gonna play us harder than Charlottesville did.”
Western scored the first seven points of the game and led 15-10 after one. They got eight straight points from reserve Daniel Brown bridging the first two quarters, but Charlottesville scored three of the final four baskets of the half to close the gap to 25-24 at halftime.
The Black Knights were led by Washington’s 13 points while Neale added 11. In addition to Mangrum’s output, Strickland also had 15 points for Western while McGahren chipped in with nine, all in the second half.
Charlottesville played the game with heavy hearts as longtime Black Knight assistant coach Harold Young passed away Friday morning. Young, a longtime right-hand man to Minor, was replaced on the bench this season by former Charlottesville head coach Cy Weaver as Young turned to his battle with liver cancer.