The Thomas Dale Knights were looking for one thing last Friday night when they traveled to Central District rival Hopewell, and that was to avenge the loss they were dealt on their home floor back on December 2nd. The Knights jumped out to an early lead, and never lost it as they defeated Hopewell by a count of 88-77. The Knights placed five players in double figures in scoring, and were able to successfully hold back rallies by the Blue Devils.
“Now that’s what you call a team effort,” said Thomas Dale head coach Eddie Goss. “We’re getting better; we’re learning to play as a team.”
After a quick basket to start the game by Hopewell guard, Markus Adams, it would be the Knights who ripped off 14 straight points, on the strength of six points by sophomore center Colin Fleischer. Fleischer, along with senior forward Sterling Tate, dominated the offensive glass in the first period and Dale held an 11 point lead at the end of the quarter.
“Ever since our loss to them [Hopewell] at home this season, we’ve been hungry for this game,” said Tate. “We knew we had to be able to adjust to their pressure.”
Where Thomas Dale had the size, Hopewell could bring the quickness. The Blue Devils employ a good pressure defense, and have pressed opponents into submission at times this season- one of the main reasons that Dale lost in the first meeting was that they couldn’t handle the pressure Hopewell applied. That pressure was applied by the Blue Devils starting mid-way through the second quarter, and The Blue Devils cut the lead to two on a basket by Taybus Taylor at 36-34. However, the Knights would weather the rally, and end the first half up 47-40. Fleischer led all scorers at the half with 12 points.
“When the pressure came at us in the first half, we weren’t quite ready for it,” said Tate. “But at the half we went in and talked about it and made the adjustment.”
The second half paralleled the first as the Knights were able to keep their distance from the Blue Devils. Tate capped the third quarter and stretched the lead to a game high 12 on a slam dunk as time expired in the period. In the fourth, Hopewell attempted to put together a run, but never got closer than seven points.
Dale was led by Tate, who registered a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Fleischer also registered a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman guard Andrien White also added 20 points. Junior Kavon Waller registered 12 points, nine rebounds and four steals, and sophomore A.J. Holliday had 12 points to go with six assists. With the win, Thomas Dale improved to 10-4 and 7-3 in the Central.
This game had big implications on the playoff race, as each game down the stretch will. The Knights entering play found themselves in a three-way tie for second with a surging Meadowbrook squad and Hopewell. The victory, coupled with the Monarchs’ defeat of Dinwiddie left the two teams with the same record, but with Dale currently holding the tiebreaker with a win earlier this season. The two teams will meet again on February 3rd at Meadowbrook.
“The fact that this team is sitting in second in the district is phenomenal,” said Goss. “Only a couple of these kids were fire-tested before this season and know what it’s like to win in this district.”
All of the teams in the Central District will have a tough task in toppling Petersburg, who defeated states contender John Marshall 75-69 in action at Virginia State on Saturday.
“I’ll tell you what, this tournament is going to be an unbelievable fight,” said Goss. “Teams two through seven are so close.”
Last year, the Knights nearly played Central District tournament Cinderella as they defeated top seeded Petersburg 93-91 before falling to Meadowbrook in the final. That same feat will be a tall order this season, as Petersburg has defeated their Central District opponents by an average margin of nearly 27 points.
For continued coverage of this basketball season, check out future editions of the Village News.