By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's boys basketball team has seen plenty of Madison County this season, and the two Bull Run District rivals squared off for the fourth time this year on Monday in the quarterfinal round of the Conference 35 tournament. By now, both teams know what to expect.
Monday night's game played out just as the matchup has played out all season, with both teams focused defensively on shutting down the opposing teams' playmakers and making things difficult for the offenses to find a rhythm. In the end, it was the second-seeded Rams who picked up their third straight win over No. 7 Madison County with a 45-34 victory that advances Strasburg to today's tournament semifinal round.
Strasburg, which has already qualified for next week's regional tournament, will play No. 6 Clarke County today at Luray High School, with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.
"We're kind of like mirror images of each other," Rams coach Matt Hiserman said of Madison County. "They've got a couple big guys and we've got a couple big guys. We've each got a couple guys that can shoot it from the perimeter. And we just know each other just way too well, when you've played each other four times like we've played. They've all been identical games."
Strasburg (17-8) entered Monday's game with much of its defensive focus centered on slowing down the Mountaineers' 6-foot-6 forward Matt Temple. The Rams held Temple to just five points in the first half -- three of which came on a buzzer beating 3-pointer in the second quarter -- but the senior still managed to end the night with a team-high 18 points.
But Madison County (10-14) struggled to find support for Temple, as the Mountaineers shot just 28.9 percent (13 for 45) from the floor and didn't have a player score more than six points outside of Temple.
"They want you to shoot a contested shot, same as what we do. Obviously they did a really good job of getting in our guys' face," Mountaineers coach Ben Breeden said. "It was a physical game, too. They've got a little bit more size than we do all over the court, so that plays into their hands and to their advantage a little bit."
The Rams struggled with their own scoring imbalance on Monday night, but junior forward Ryan Smoot helped make up for it by scoring a game-high 23 points.
Jonathan Kloosterman carried the Rams early, as the senior forward scored six points in the first eight minutes to help Strasburg to an 8-6 lead after one period. But Kloosterman, who had the challenge of both playing offense against and guarding Temple for most of the night, cooled off over the final three periods and ended with 10 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
That opened the door for Smoot, who erupted for eight points in the second period to help the Rams keep pace with Mountaineers.
Madison County began the second quarter by hitting its first three shots, and a 3-pointer by James Graves gave the Mountaineers a 13-10 lead with 6:10 left in the frame. Smoot tied it by converting a conventional three-point play off a baseline layup and a made free throw, but Temple's hook shot on the low block gave the Mountaineers a 15-13 lead with 2:35 left in the half.
Kloosterman tied it back up with a layup on minute later, and another conventional three-point play by Smoot gave the Rams an 18-15 lead with 1:14 left in the period. Smoot scored again on a stickback late in the period, but Temple's 3-pointer at the buzzer sent Strasburg into halftime with a 20-18 lead.
"I got a couple open looks, beat my guy and their big guy kind of stayed towards Jonathan [Kloosterman] a little bit knowing he's a scorer. I just went up and got hit and finished them," said Smoot, who also had 11 rebounds in the win. "When you get open looks, you just try to knock them down."
Smoot stayed hot in the second half, as he scored six points during an 8-0 Strasburg run that extended the Rams' lead to 28-18 with 3:15 left in the third period. Madison County cut the deficit to 31-25 at the end of the quarter following a three-point play by Temple, but the Rams pushed the lead back to 10 with 5:05 to play in the fourth period on a short jumper in the paint by Smoot.
Four points by Temple and a free throw by Isiah Smith cut Strasburg's lead to five points with 2:25 left, but the Rams connected on a pair of easy layups out of its press break to extend the lead back to 39-30 with 1:35 to play.
Smoot and Rams senior guard Tyler Doman (eight points) combined to go 6 for 6 at the free-throw line over the final minute to seal the win.
"I thought in the second half we played really well," Hiserman said. "We took our time, we executed things, we got some good looks. Late I thought we took a couple shots we shouldn't have taken, and part of that was guys just panicking a little bit or pushing a little bit."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org