Charlottesville’s Christian Stewart has emerged as a critical part of what the Black Knights do this season as a sort of unconventional big man, scrapping for rebounds, scoring in key spots and defending the post particularly well.
He can add clutch free throw shooting to that list now after a 59-56 win over Louisa County.
“I was kind of nervous, so I had to get my head in the game, I had to make two free throws and come through for my team,” Stewart said.
Stewart went 3-for-4 at the line in the fourth quarter and combined with Isaiah Washington and Nick Motley for the Black Knights to go 6-for-8 in the final frame at the charity stripe. For a team that has occasionally been let down by free throw shooting and has struggled at times this year, it was a big step for the Black Knights to see a couple of players that perhaps CHS wouldn’t choose to be in that spot step up in a big way.
“We want Nick Motley, Jake (Bowling) that’s who we want at the line,” said Washington who hit his two free throws with 25 seconds to play. “I can go to the line but I don’t know if I’m going to knock them down. Jake and Nick and Z (Zymir Faulkner) — they’re going to knock them down.”
One person in particular was thrilled to see that kind of performance at the line that helped offset some attempted late game heroics from Louisa’s Buck Hunter who buried a 3-pointer right after Washington’s free throws.
“We’re not shooting the ball at the free throw line very well but when it came down to the end of it, we did,” said Charlottesville coach Mitch Minor. “For them to hit two each right there I was extremely happy, I’ll take that.”
After Hunter knocked down his three, the more conventional choice for the Black Knights in Nick Motley made it to the line, hitting one of two free throws to extend the CHS lead back to three points. Hunter made another attempt from distance at the other end but, couldn’t go back-to-back. Louisa got control of the ball and Jarett Hunter — who reached 1,000 career points earlier in the night — took a chance at an equalizer from the corner and it did everything but fall through the net.
The Charlottesville win continued what has been shaping up into a wild Jefferson District race, giving the Black Knights a one-game lead of the Lions after Louisa dropped a game earlier this week to Albemarle as well.
“The biggest difference was the second attempts off the boards, I think that was the biggest difference in the game,” Minor said. “I thought we did a good job of help (defense), I thought we played really good defense all night.”
Charlottesville was in position to close out the game in large part because Zy Faulkner had another strong night offensively, hitting three 3-pointers while ringing up 19 points on the night. Jake Bowling had 13 points including three first half 3-pointers and also came up with a crucial loose ball by diving on the floor in the last minute before quickly calling a timeout.
Neither team created much separation all night, trading early runs before settling into a serious back and forth. The Black Knights led at halftime by three and at the end of the fourth quarter by just one, a fitting back-and-forth for the two squads at the top of the district standings.
Louisa found success at times with Terry Nealy chipping in 11 points largely on putbacks to help bolster a balanced offensive attack where Jarett Hunter had 10, Buck Hunter had 13, Isaac Haywood had 10 and Mahlik Munnerlynn had 12. But the Black Knights also forced Louisa into a lot of turnovers and frustration by denying passes.
“We got some good looks but Charlottesville is a good team and I thought they defended well — coach Minor has them playing good defense off the ball,” said Louisa coach Robert Shelton. “Some of the things that typically we’d be successful with in the past, they took a lot of that stuff away, they made some adjustments.”
The loss couldn’t dampen the celebratory moment of Jarett Hunter reaching 1,000 career points. The two-sport standout who has been a pass-first point guard who’s also capable of attacking the rim for four years now reached that milestone as the ultimate team player.
“He’s special,” Shelton said. “He’s an integral part of turning this program around, a true leader, a kid who represents what’s on the front of his shirt. He’s what every kid who’s running around in this gym is trying to be, he sets a great example.”
Louisa will try and bounce back when the Lions host Monticello for senior night Tuesday while Charlottesville gets a week off before tangling with Albemarle in yet another critical Jefferson District battle Friday.