Class 3 State Semifinal
Western Albemarle (23-6) versus Lakeland (17-8) at King’s Fork High, 8 p.m. Tuesday
The Basics: Western Albemarle’s boys basketball team has lived on the edge in each of the last three playoff games, winning all three on buzzer-beaters by Henry Sullivan, Tommy Mangrum and finally Andrew Shifflett on Friday night in the state quarterfinals. They’ve shown a masterful ability to adjust and take away what teams are doing at key times and they just don’t get rattled by anything they’re facing. Last week it was Northside’s ability to score off the dribble that burned them and briefly put the Warriors in an 8-point hole. Undaunted, Western dug out with Riley Prichard, Mangrum and Shifflett making some big time plays. For the first time during the offseason, Western has to travel after hosting all the way through the Region 3C tournament and in the state quarters by virtue of being the Region 3C champions. It’s a unique test as the Cavaliers bring a deep back court that includes three awfully good scoring options in Keimari Artis, Raymond Bellamy and Clint Wright, Jr. Artis led the Cavaliers with 18 points in Lakeland’s state quarterfinal win against Armstrong, lighting it up from beyond the arc. All three are capable of getting going at any time, and Lakeland wants to attack with a smaller lineup, so this will definitely be a matchup of contrasting strengths, speed versus size. That should lead to quite a chess match as the two squads ride the game’s runs.
Key Matchup: Western’s defense takes on Lakeland’s Raymond Bellamy. Bellamy is a slashing point guard who also rebounds particularly well and the Warriors struggled to find an answer for another slashing point guard last week in Northside’s Ayrion Journiette. After Journiette hit an array of tough shots at the rim and floating jumpers no matter who was guarding him, the Warriors turned to reserve Lachlan Murphy eventually to deny Journiette the ball. Bellamy has a lot of back court help though, so simply locking him off probably isn’t going to be the answer. Look for Western to have tried to shore up that weakness, though frankly at this point in the postseason, every team alive has someone who can just go get a bucket. Containing Bellamy will be key, which means whoever draws the assignment will need help.
Who to watch: Western Albemarle’s Henry Sullivan. Western continues to enjoy a size advantage against opponents in large part because of Sullivan. His size came up in a big way late in the state quarterfinals when he blocked a shot shortly after Mangrum’s game-tying 3-pointer in the closing minutes. The block was huge as it set up Shifflett’s game-winner after the Warriors melted the clock. While Lakeland is deep at the guard spot, Sullivan and frontcourt mate Josh Sime should be able to give Western the edge in the paint, especially on the defensive end. They’ll likely contend at times with Shawn Mitchell, who scored 13 off the bench in the state quarterfinals, but they’ll also need to be ready to step up and stop Lakeland’s speedy guards when they get in the lane.
The line: Western by 1. Three straight games, three straight buzzer beaters, three straight one possession wins. The Warriors have had some serious magic down the stretch. Even on the road, that gives them an edge here.