The fact that Louisa County led George Washington for just 51 seconds and yet was not in real trouble until late in the fourth quarter tells you what kind of weird statistical game the Lions had in the Class 4 Championship game.
Unfortunately for Louisa, it had perhaps its worst night of shooting in its final game. Obviously a good deal of credit has to go to the GW defense. But despite climbing uphill all game by shooting under 30 percent from the field in all four quarters, the Lions rallied on defense, found the little ways to keep things competitive when statistically this game should not have been that. In the end the though, the Eagles got hot down the stretch and did so during a lengthy cold snap from the Lions. It proved to be too much to overcome and so George Washington picked up its first state title in 21 years while Louisa’s wild rally-cap playoff run came to an end in a 55-44 loss.
“A tough one, but I’m proud of my kids,” said Lions coach Robert Shelton. “I think we fought a good battle. We ran up against a team that was pretty talented.”
George Washington got off to a quick start in the first with Taveon Waldern getting a layup to start the game before hitting a 3-pointer to lead a 7-0 run in the first 90 seconds. Louisa struggled substantially in the first four minutes with turnovers, both forced and unforced. Nonetheless, with 3:18 left, a steal and layup from Jarret Hunter cut the deficit to 10-7. After another cold spell mostly forced by the Eagles defense, a 3-pointer from Chris Shelton cut the lead down to 12-10 going into the second.
“On defense we push each other everyday,” Chris Shelton said. “Our community, they support us, they were right behind us. I’m proud of all the guys, everyone contributed in some way, some aspect. I’m really proud of all the guys, how hard they worked.”
Louisa managed to tie things up out of the gate in the second quarter on a putback from Shyleek Washington. The two squads then traded baskets evenly until the Eagles got back-to-back converts with an and-1 from Kapone Barley and then a layup from Shunta Wilson to make it 22-16 with 3:18 until the break. The pace picked up in the final minute with a 3-pointer landing for Wilson and Ny’rek Wheeler getting a putback to make it 27-18. Louisa was able to get a late basket underneath from Shelton to make it 27-20 at the half, a decent spot to be in considering the Lions shot just under 27 percent from the field in the first two quarters and was only 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.
“They’re long, so finishing against them was hard because they’re all 6-foot-3 at every spot but one,” Robert Shelton said. “We didn’t get a lot of clean looks inside and that’s a testament to their defense and even when we did get some clean looks we rushed.”
The third quarter saw both teams struggle with fouls early and GW was able to take advantage of it early to build a 31-22 lead. But back-t0-back 3-pointers from Xavien Hunter and Chris Shelton started a run. After a roller from from Isaac Haywood, the Lions made it a 1-point Eagles lead with four minutes left. Then Shelton came through with a finish underneath to make it a 10-0 run and give Louisa its first lead at 32-31. Those were the loudest 51 seconds of the game as it brought a majority Lions crowd to life.
“That’s a testament to these kids,” Robert Shelton said. “You don’t always shoot well, but I think we had heart, grit and determination to be good. We shared the ball and so we can overcome some of those situations where we aren’t always putting the ball in the basket because we can get some turnovers, get some rebounds. But as we all know, you have to consistently make shots and sometimes that comes back to haunt you.”
Sadly for Louisa, it was short lived. George Washington closed the third on a 7-0 run with a big 3-pointer from Wilson to make it 38-32 going into the fourth. Wilson then hit on two more field goals to start the fourth quarter to make it 42-32 with 4:22 left.
On the other end, the layups just did not fall for Louisa. To call it an unfriendly rim is being generous. It took six minutes from Shelton’s basket in the third that gave the Lions the lead until Louisa scored again and it was Shelton on a putback that made it a 9-point game with 3:28 to play.
“I knew after watching the film Tuesday night, Chris Shelton was the shooter, I studied the plays,” said GW coach Jermaine Parker. “I looked at everything they did and made adjustments to our defense on the screens that’s how — we didn’t stop him, but we contained him.”
George Washington changed its pace entirely from there. The breakneck speed it ran with in the first three quarters was gone on the offensive end as it went to work on the clock. Free throws from Wilson extended the lead and then an amazing reverse from the aforementioned followed by a layup from Wheeler gave GW its largest lead of the game at 15 points with just over two minutes to play.
Louisa was able to get a big 3-pointer from Xavien Hunter, a quick bucket from Shelton and another 3-pointer from Jarrett Hunter to make it an 8-point game with 1:20 left. But the Eagles buckled down at the free throw line and held on for the win 55-44 win.
“Tonight the dream became a reality,” Parker said. “These guys hustled, they played, they fought it out to the end. Hats go off to Louisa County. They fought, they fought hard. And I’m just proud of (our) guys, proud to be able to go back to Danville as the 4A state champions.”
On the night Wilson led all scorers with 29 points to go with six rebounds and a pair of blocks, steals and assists each. Wheeler had a game high 16 rebounds and picked up eight of his 16 points at the free throw line. The Eagles shot just over 37% from the field on the night but in the fourth quarter went 4-for-6.
For Louisa, Shelton finished his high school career by leading the lions in both points and rebounds with 20 and 10 respectively. Xavien Hunter had 10 points and with two steals. Jarrett Hunter had eight points, four assists, four steals and remarkably, no turnovers despite being heavily pressured all game from GW point guard Taevon Walden.
“Offensively, they played similar to us, they pushed the pace the whole time,” Jarrett Hunter said. “We weren’t really used to someone going at the same speed as us, maybe like Lake Taylor where they were kind of the same speed but died out in the second half. GW Danville, they kept that pace the whole game.”
The Lions finish their season 26-5 and graduate Shelton, Washington, Mark Carter, Reggie Cosby and Michael Weakly. This is just the second showing for the Lions in a state final with the previous appearance coming in 1994 when Robert Shelton was a player under then coach Fitzgerald Barnes.
“This group right here, they’ve accomplished a lot,” Robert Shelton said. “It’s been over 20 years since we’ve been in this situation and I couldn’t tell you the last time we even won a regional championship. So we won our district, district tournament, region tournament and now state runnerups, it’s like I told the guys, keep your heads up. It’s definitely been a learning experience. Sometimes things don’t go your way. We just have to keep working as a program and keep getting better.”
With both Jarrett Hunter, Xavien Hunter, and Haywood back in the mix as starters, the Lions have a solid core to work with to try and piece back together a team capable of making the kinds of playoff runs this team has in the past two seasons.