Poor shooting plagues Washington in first loss
CHARLESTON (March 21) – Washington picked a bad time to play its worst game of the season.
Arick Nicks scored 20 points and No. 5 Huntington ousted the top-ranked Patriots from the state basketball tournament with a 66-57 victory in the Class AAA semifinals Friday at the Charleston Civic Center.
Washington (25-1) struggled to find its rhythm from the opening tip, hitting just 2-of-21 from 3-point range and missing several second-chance point opportunities underneath the basket. Each time the Patriots closed the gap in the second half, the Highlanders were able to answer.
After leading by six points at halftime, Huntington built an eight-point lead, 52-44, with a 3-pointer by Nick Tubbs with 5:22 remaining in the game. But Jerome Jones and Josh Dudley scored baskets for Washington, and Maleke Jones hit a pair of free throws as the Patriots used a 7-0 run to draw within 52-51 with 3:52 remaining.
Washington would get no closer, while Huntington would go on to defeat Hurricane, 55-54, in the state championship game the following night.
Dominique Newman, the Patriots’ flashy senior guard and the team’s leading scorer this season, was held to just 11 points, while hitting an uncharacteristic 1-of-7 from behind the arc. Newman fouled out with 3:27 remaining in the game and Huntington responded with a 7-0 run to take a 59-51 lead with 1:44 left.
Josh Dudley led the Patriots with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Jerome Jones added 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Tavian Dunn-Martin and Anthony Meadows scored 17 points apiece for the Highlanders (22-4).
Almost from the beginning, Huntington was able to match the Patriots’ athleticism as no team had this season. The squads changed the lead five times in the first quarter and three more during the second.
The Highlanders, playing a 1-2-2 zone defense, took a 30-24 lead at intermission as Huntington scored 10 points off turnovers in the first half and outscored Washington by nine in the second period.
Poor first-half shooting plagued the Patriots, who hit just 1-of-11 from 3-point range and 33 percent overall from the floor.
“In the first half we struggled a bit with our shooting,” said Washington head coach Don Bullett. “That’s part of the game. Sometimes you shoot the ball real well and some nights you don’t.
“We’ve seen zones this year and we’ve probably been able to shoot the ball better in the first half,” Bullett added. “But they did a nice job defensively. It just comes back to whether you knock down shots and you’re able to get some points. We just weren’t able to do that.”
Newman brought the Patriots to within 32-31 with a breakaway dunk that seemed to spark a sluggish Washington early in the third quarter. But Huntington responded by scoring the next five points before Newman drained his only 3-pointer and Dudley hit a pair of layups to even the score 40-40 with 2:27 in the third quarter.
“I thought we could build off that momentum, but I guess we just couldn’t find a rhythm after that,” Newman said. “It was really frustrating. We were working harder and harder. We just couldn’t get anything to go our way. Nothing went our way at all. They played us good.”
Washington shot just 34.9 percent from the floor overall and 9.5 percent from 3-point range. Huntington had a 41-40 edge in rebounds and both teams committed eight turnovers.
“Some nights, some teams are just better than you are,” Bullett said. “My hat goes off to Huntington. They did a nice job. I thought our kids did a nice job as well.”
The Patriots reached the state tournament for the second consecutive year, finishing the regular season a perfect 21-0 before winning three straight including the sectional and regional championships.
Washington arrived in Charleston the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA tournament after outscoring its opponents by an average of nearly 33 points per game. Newman was later named to the triple-A all-tournament team.
“I’m very proud of our basketball team,” Bullett added. “I’m very proud of our young men. How they conducted themselves all year, and just being able to have that front row seat to watch us play has been just awesome.”