By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Isaac Fleming can't wait for his next family reunion.
The star shooting guard for Massanutten Academy's postgraduate boys basketball team secured all the bragging rights he'll need with first cousin Tyson Waterman -- the head coach of opposing Believe Prep (S.C.) -- by leading the Colonels to a hard-fought 65-62 victory in Friday's Massanutten Invitational at Central High School.
With his team trailing a point after he missed the second of two free throws with 1:22 to go, Fleming more than made amends on the Colonels' next possession when he dribbled through a pair of Believe defenders in the paint before dishing to teammate Raquan Brown-Johnson for an open bucket inside. The Royals' Jared Wilson-Frame recovered in time to swat the shot away, but was whistled for goaltending as Massanutten went up 63-62 with just 43 seconds to play.
"I just realized his my first cousin -- I just saw his family," Waterman said. "My first cousin beat me tonight."
Believe Prep turned the ball over on its next possession, and the Colonels extended their lead when Elijah De'Shar Wilson-Thomas calmly knocked down two free throws with nine seconds to go.
Trailing by three, the Royals still had a chance to tie. After getting the ball past midcourt, Waterman called a time out with just more than two seconds to play to set up a final shot. The Royals got it off, as A.J. Jackson launched a long 3-point attempt at the buzzer that barely drew iron.
It was a gut-check victory for the Colonels, who watched an 11-point halftime lead turn into a seven-point deficit when Markus Oliphant empathically capped a 7-0 Royals' run with a dunk that put his team up 56-49 with 5:08 to play.
That's when Massanutten's backcourt simply took over. Hard-nosed point guard Fa'Teem Glenn scored the Colonels' next six points to get his team back to within three, and Fleming notched the tie with a 3-pointer with 3:16 to go. Wilson-Frame twice more gave Believe Prep the lead with drives through the paint, but each time the Colonels had a response. Fleming, via Brown-Johnson, had the final answer.
"I believe we have some of the best guards in the country when we play as a team," Massanutten coach Melvin Abrams said.
The first half was all Massanutten, as the Royals struggled to make much of anything. Believe Prep connected on only 8 of 37 field-goal attempts in the first 20 minutes, which made the Colonels' 10-for-31 effort look positively red-hot.
The Royals started heating up about five minutes into the second half, reeling off a 17-6 run capped by Jackson's 3-pointer that put his team up 45-43 with 9:03 to go.
"It's been one of our biggest challenges all year, I think -- we're our biggest opponent," Abrams said. "There was a stretch there where we were just discombobulated for a stretch in the second half."
Believe Prep (21-8) lost for the second time this season to the Colonels, and didn't go quietly either time.
"I'm just blown away at the way we ended the game," Waterman said. "We came back out in the second half, we refocused and the guys really gave a maximum effort defensively. We just fell short. At the end of the game we didn't close it."
Wilson-Frame led the Royals with 17 points.
Glenn had 17 for Massanuttten, Fleming added 16 and D.J. Foreman had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
The Colonels take on Shooting4Greatness (N.C.) today at 6 p.m. Believe Prep faces Ridgeview Prep (N.C.) at p.m., followed by Mt. Zion Prep (Md.) against Fishburne Military School at 4 p.m.
In Friday's other games, Fishburne topped Shooting4Greatness 83-70 and Mt. Zion downed Ridgeview 82-75.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>