By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Tyler Doman might get the ultimate test of willpower tonight against Bruton in the 2A East regional quarterfinals.
Doman, Strasburg's senior point guard, is tasked with making sure the Rams' offense doesn't fall into the trap of playing Bruton's up-temp, frenetic pace of basketball. That won't be easy against the high-powered Panthers, who've scored at least 100 points five times this season by imposing their brand of pressure-packed basketball.
Discipline will be vital for Doman and his teammates -- discipline to play their preferred style of half-court basketball and not try to start trading layups with the ultra-quick Panthers.
"It takes a lot," Doman said. "I mean, you get a steal and you see two guys back you still think you can make the layup. It's hard to calm down when you see an open bucket. But sometimes you just have to, and it'll work out for the best."
The Rams played within themselves perfectly in Tuesday's regional first-round game against East Rockingham, dictating pace against an opponent trying to force the action with defensive pressure. Strasburg pulled out a 36-35 win, and that type of score would suit Rams coach Matt Hiserman just fine tonight.
"We've got to be able to get back defensively and keep them from running up and down the floor, which is kind of what we thought we had to do with East Rock [Tuesday] night," Hiserman said. "We were able to do that. But at this point in the season, if you get to the regional quarterfinals you're going to be playing somebody who's pretty good.
"... We have to control the tempo, play good defense and take care of the basketball. They're one of those teams that thrive off turnovers. If we can get them to play our style and stay in the half court and control the ball, we'll put ourselves in a position hopefully to have a shot."
Bruton (22-1) returned nine starters off last season's Group AA Division 3 state semifinalist team, and this year's Panthers look primed to make a return to states in the new, smaller 2A classification. Led by senior shooting guard Marcus Carter (20.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, the Bay Rivers District's co-Player of the Year, the Panthers also feature high-scoring senior guard Lonnie Swinton (17.6 ppg, 3.8 steals per game).
"They're a team that a lot of people in the state feel could end up in the state championship game," Hiserman said. "They've got nine seniors back from the team last year that went to the double A state final four. They're really athletic, they like to get up and down the floor."
Hiserman said Bruton's depth as simply worn teams down at times this season, a fate the Rams hope to avoid by slowing down the pace.
"We're going to have to control the tempo and keep it our type of game, take care of the ball and not turn it over," Hiserman said. "They're going to get out and pressure you full-court, then try to create turnovers off that. They've got some kids that can really shoot it, too. They'll shoot it from everywhere. They're a pretty well put together basketball team."
Strasburg center Jonathan Kloosterman expects to be busy in the post, where the Rams hope to do as much damage as possible. Kloosterman (10.9 ppg) is one of three Rams averaging in double-digit scoring this season along with Doman (11.5 ppg) and forward Ryan Smoot (12.4 ppg).
"We know they're very athletic and have mad hops," Kloosterman said. "They run a 2-3 zone and leave the high post wide open, so we're going to focus on getting the ball into the high post and getting them to leave their feet -- get some pump fakes and try to get them into foul trouble."
Strasburg (18-9) has had its issues scoring with any consistency this season, a problem the Rams have largely mitigated by forcing opponents to play their way.
"We've been pressed a lot lately, people trying to speed us up," Doman said. "I think we've done pretty well against it. We haven't done too bad, I think. It's just getting the ball in the bucket that's been a struggle."
Hiserman thinks the Rams have the right mindset heading tonight's 8 p.m. game in Williamsburg.
"I think anytime you get to the regional level, it's a successful year," Hiserman said. "Now we've gotten the first regional win that we've had since 1999-2000. I think your kids get a little bit more excited each night.
"They know that the next night, there's a little bit more on the line. They get that sense of belonging. You win a regional game, and you think, 'Hey, we belong here.'"