By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
RICHMOND -- For most of the first three periods, Handley was able to hang with defending state champ Brunswick on Saturday night at VCU.
However, the Bulldogs finished the third period with a flurry and cruised to a 63-38 victory in the Group AA, Division 3, state quarterfinals.
"A very talented team we just played against," Handley coach Tommy Dixon said. "Now we understand why they're the No. 1 team in the state. I thought we played well in the first half to a certain point, and then we just lost our momentum. Then in the second half, we just couldn't score the ball."
Brunswick held a 32-23 lead midway through the third period, but then went on a 27-6 run to put the game out of reach. The Bulldogs were able to drain a couple 3-pointers and score inside the paint as they finally seized control of the game.
"Any time you're playing against a team that's disciplined and understands what they have to do, it puts pressure on you," Dixon said. "Lately, we just haven't been able to run an offense, and there were times we were just hesitating a little bit too much."
The Judges never led in the game, but hung tough with the Bulldogs in the first period. Brunswick (27-2) raced out to a 10-3 lead, sparked by two dunks from Brandan Stith.
The Judges (19-6) responded with six straight points to end the first period, on two free throws from Derek Dowrey and a basket each by Darion Robinson and Cameron Jackson.
Brunswick's B.J. Stith, one of the Bulldog's top scorers, got in early foul trouble and sat on the bench for much of the first half. However, Shaquille Jones stepped up in his absence.
Jones scored seven points in the second period to help the Bulldogs take a nine-point halftime lead.
"Brandan has garnered a lot of attention this year, but Shaq has really gone under the radar," Brunswick coach Bryant Stith said. "I think this week people will really get to see what a tremendous basketball player that he is. He has been as steady as a rock for us all year long and tonight was no exception."
Brandan Stith hit a free throw and Jones had a dunk to put Brunswick up 30-17 with 6:03 left in the third period. Dowrey and Jackson combined to score Handley's next six points inside the paint and help cut the lead to nine, but in the end the Bulldogs' talent and athleticism was too much for Handley.
"We tried as hard as possible," Handley senior Chris Skinner said. "They're a great ball team, a great ball club. We came out executing well, but then they just had a good couple runs and that was the game."
Brandan Stith had 21 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, and Jones had 21 points, three assists and two steals.
Brunswick's only losses this season were to Group AAA Landstown and Miller School, which is a private school. Bryant Stith said his team's tough schedule has prepared them for the state tournament.
"When you scrimmage Marshall and Phoebus and you schedule Landstown, and Great Bridge and I.C. Norcom and the Miller School, we feel pretty confident that we've played against just about the best talent in the state," Bryant Stith said. "Therefore, when we come [to the state tournament], we feel we are more than prepared."
The Judges were led by Dowrey with 10 points and three rebounds, and Chris Skinner with eight points and two assists.
Handley has plenty of young players returning next season, and should have another strong team. Dixon said he was very proud of his six seniors -- Skinner, Dowrey, Dexter Sloane, Kyle Murph, Robbie Lawler and Richard Bock -- and what they accomplished.
"They have gotten us back where we were," Dixon said. "The [previous] two years have not been fun and I think these guys dedicated themselves in the offseason to really get us back to where we're used to being. I really appreciate all the efforts that they've always given. Sometimes it's been a struggle, but I knew in the end that they would be there and do the things we're asking them to do.
"Unfortunately tonight we just ran into a better team, but I think these guys can be proud of the fact that I think we represented our district very well. And I think they can keep their heads held high, simply because of the effort that they've always given every night they've played."