Weekly Briefing Basketball Edition 3.5.20: VHSL State Quarterfinals

Photos by Kristi Ellis

Class 5 State Quarterfinals

Albemarle (19-8) versus Potomac Falls (19-6) at Rock Ridge 7 p.m.

The Basics: Let’s not mince words, when Josh Morse went down with his injury weeks ago, everyone had written off Albemarle, and anyone outside the program who hadn’t already definitely wrote them off when Jackson Rose went down. In fact, before the regular season started it looked like something of a down year for the Patriots was coming. But Albemarle is the biggest testament to perseverance in the area this year, continuing to overcome, scrap and claw their way into the state quarterfinals. Pure force of will is why this team that’s far from a juggernaut is here. In fact, they were a single bucket away from hosting this quarterfinal. It’s cliche to say that a team is better than the sum of its parts but it’s also dead-on accurate here. Justin Murkey, Dasaun Taylor, Cam Johnson and Chris Woods were all averaging a less than 10.0 points per game when the Patriots were at full strength. Nobody has really jumped up since then besides Wilson Hagen who’s averaging 8.1 points and 4.1 boards, but Murkey is a slasher, Taylor can manage a game, Johnson is lightning quick and filled up the stat sheet back on senior night with 24 points and Woods is a tall threat from beyond the arc. It’s also notable that in addition to quality team defense night in and night out, in seemingly every win, an unexpected hero steps up. To clinch a state tournament berth it Wilson Hagen’s 10 points and 10 boards. In the region tournament opener, it was Will Hornsby’s 10 points and seven boards and Kywan Washington’s 10 points. Albemarle is going to need another one of those surprise performances against a significantly tougher opponent in Region C champion Potomac Falls. The Panthers aren’t an overwhelming state quarterfinal opponent by any means, but like anyone else who’s advanced this far, they’re pretty darn good. In addition to leading scorer Landon Hawes, they’ve got Jalen Coker averaging 16.1 points per game. After that tandem though, things get kind of thin offensively with nobody on the roster north of 5.0 points. In that situation, there are a couple of options. Look for Albemarle to either try and clamp down on those two or accept that they’re going to get theirs and limit everyone else. If they can execute either way, Albemarle could find itself in this one late. 

Key Matchup: Albemarle’s stingy defense contends with Potomac Falls’ Landon Hawes, the Potomac District and Region 5C player of the year. Hawes is going to be a tough mark for the Patriots. He’s a 6-foot-5 wing who averages 21.3 points and 8.6 boards per contest and is committed to play next year at Christopher Newport. The Patriots may be able to draw on their experience game planning against Western’s Tommy Mangrum in order to gameplan for Hawes. Mangrum is also a matchup problem on the wing, capable of shooting or driving at will on the offensive end. Hawes presents some similar challenges and Albemarle has consistently risen to the occasion to find a way to win no matter what the circumstances. 

Who to Watch: Albemarle’s Chris Woods. With Morse and Rose out, Woods is likely to be the man that the Patriots turn to if they need a big shot in this one. Woods is averaging 7.3 points per game, but he’s pretty cool and calm under pressure and he’s knocked down 35 3-pointers this season, with a solid uptick since the injuries and reshuffling. He’s also a strong free throw shooter at 71 percent, so he’s the right guy to have the ball late. 

The Line: Albemarle by 1. Sure, it’s on the road. Sure Potomac Falls has won six straight and is coming off a region championship. But Albemarle has consistently found ways to beat the odds this year. Seems like they’ve got a shot to do it again here. 


Class 3 State Quarterfinals 

Western Albemarle (22-6) versus Northside (19-8) at Albemarle 7 p.m. Friday

The Basics: Battle-tested is the one-word way to describe Western Albemarle. The Warriors have been taken to the brink in so many different ways this season and it ended in some serious heartbreak including the Jefferson District tournament title game when a Charlottesville buzzer beater nipped the Warriors. But those challenging situations readied them for the two slugfests in the Region 3C tournament where they needed a Henry Sullivan tip-in against Spotswood and a Tommy Mangrum fall-away jumper against LCA to win the region title a week ago. Western has gotten really good at exploiting its size advantage in most games, an advantage borne of Josh Sime’s emergence and Sullivan’s improvement. The Warriors moved Mangrum, the Jefferson District player of the year,  out to the wing at the start of the year after years of him contributing in the post to make room for those two and it has paid off in 22 wins and a region title. Now they’re playing for a shot at the state final four. They’ll have to contend with a Northside squad that can score with Ayrion Journiette and Jamison Foley both capable of strong performances like their 19 and 17 points each in the Region 3D final loss to Cave Spring. Can Western use its size advantage to erase second chance opportunities and limit that potent Northside offense? That’ll be critical in this one. 

Key matchup: Northside takes on Tommy Mangrum. Mangrum is the Jefferson District player of the year for a reason. He’s a nightmare to guard on the wing and by virtue of his height and diverse skill set will often dictate how a defense approaches the Warriors, often forcing teams out of their normal game plan. Western has proven capable of winning if Mangrum isn’t lighting it up, but when he’s locked in or coming up with game-winners like he did last week against Liberty Christian, they’re at a different level. Either Mangrum gets it done with another explosive night or he draws enough attention to open the door for other Warriors to step up. Either way he’s going to be a factor Friday. 

Who to watch: Western’s Riley Prichard. When Sullivan had the tip-in to clinch this state tournament berth, the underrated part of the play was Riley Prichard finding a way to get all the way to nearly the baseline when the Warriors’ original play broke down. He didn’t force it, he didn’t make a mistake, he just got to the baseline on a drive and gave his team a chance by hoisting it up with plenty of time left on the clock. It was a heady move and Sullivan capitalized. Western will need more of those kind of savvy plays Friday and Prichard has proven to be the kind of steady hand you want at the point. Throw in Andrew Shifflett’s impressive year and Western’s backcourt is a tough, bunch who’s stats may not make anyone’s eyes pop out at 9.2 points per game for Prichard and 7.4 points per game for Shifflett, but they’re experts at managing moments and staying calm under pressure.

The Line: Western Albemarle by 1. The Warriors get the edge here playing close to home and because they’ve seen seemingly every possible late game scenario at this point. If they’re in it late, they know what it takes.