When scheduling basketball tournaments over the holidays, many schools opt for the safe route, inviting teams that shouldn’t prevent the host school from winning their own trophy.
Henrico High School doesn’t subscribe to that theory. Thus, every team that played in their 10th annual Henrico Holiday Hoops Tournament over the weekend spent three days grinding and battling against top-flight competition.
For county schools Hanover and Atlee, the weekend did not go as originally hoped.
On Championship Saturday, the Hawks and Raiders met for the second time in nine days in the first game, the winner finishing seventh in an eight-team field. And, after withstanding a torrid first half shooting performance by Atlee, Hanover turned up the defensive heat, key to pulling away with a 75-59 victory.
After falling to 5A state title favorite Potomac in the first round, then to rival Glen Allen in their second meeting of December, the win gives Hanover, and their head coach Darren Thornton, not only a positive end to 2013, but ideas on how to improve as the heart of the schedule arrives.
“In our first game against Potomac, we knew they were a team going for a division title, in Glen Allen we know they’re always tough, they play great team defense,” Thornton said. “This tournament has helped us see we’ll have to go through battles, we’ll have to go through tough stretches throughout the season. I like the way our guys bounced back [against Atlee].”
Atlee shot lights out in the opening half, 53 percent from the field including 70 percent from beyond the three-point line. But Hanover responded by drawing fouls, outscoring the Raiders 8-1 at the free throw line in the first half, and briefly leading at 24-23. But the Raiders answered with an 11-1 run of their own to extend the edge back to nine.
Hanover closed the gap in the final moments, trailing by just two at intermission, 38-36. Jalen Elliott scored 14 of his 23 points in the first 16 minutes. Getting back into the game gave Thornton the option of rolling out the defensive pressure come third quarter action.
“We went full-court pressure, wanting to put more pressure on the ball because they were shooting 70 percent,” Thornton noted. “We wanted to challenge them to continue to shoot that well. I don’t think you can beat anybody who shoots 70 percent, so we wanted to keep pressure on and get them out of their rhythm.”
The percentages fell as the pressure descended upon the Raiders, who only hit 1-of-8 three pointers in the second half, just 30 percent from the field overall.
Cutch Ellis became the go-to offensive force for the Hawks (6-4), with 17 of his 24 points coming in the second half. Brian Miller continued his fine offensive season, leading Atlee (2-7) with 23 points, while R.J. Jenkins had 12.
Atlee fell to host Henrico in the opening round, then suffered a disappointing second round defeat to Hermitage 80-63, a team they took to overtime on the road a season ago.
The new calendar year brings crossroads to both the Hawks and Raiders. For Hanover, they seek another quality win to add to their first week triumphs in the Conference 20 Tip-Off Tournament against Midlothian and Glen Allen. For Atlee, they simply seek to save a season that, just three weeks ago, held such promise after a runner-up performance in Douglas Freeman High School’s Rebel Invitational.
And for both teams, they must prepare for, arguably, the toughest schedules in the Central Region for the rest of the regular season. Teams are continuing to play their old district schedules this year in spite of VHSL reclassification, which means the Hawks and Raiders must still face Armstrong and Glen Allen twice, making it four showdowns between the Hawks and Jaguars in the regular season alone. Hanover gets Highland Springs twice, Atlee gets Henrico twice. Add in rivalry games with Lee-Davis, and there are zero “gimmes” on the slate.
It begins Jan. 7 when Atlee heads to Glen Allen and Hanover hosts Lee-Davis.