Second-half struggles doom Warren County

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County’s boys basketball team held a six-point lead at the end of the first half of Tuesday’s home game against Bull Run District foe Madison County. But some halftime adjustments by the Mountaineers and inexperience on the part of the Wildcats turned the tables in the second half.

Madison County’s defense forced nine turnovers in the third period and the Mountaineers outscored Warren County by 10 points in the frame en route to a 55-51 victory.

“The first quarter I thought we played pretty well. Some of that, we just hit some shots, too. The third quarter was definitely our downfall tonight,” said Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews, who saw his team fall to 1-6 with the loss. “A lot of — I’m not going to say unforced errors — but bad passes. … We’re still inexperienced as a group. We’re still trying to learn each other. But overall we’ve struggled pretty bad this year.”

Trailing 26-20 at halftime, Madison County head coach Ben Breeden emphasized the importance of ball pressure against the Wildcats. The Mountaineers responded by forcing six turnovers on Warren County’s first six possessions of the second half, including five steals. Madison County sophomore Isiah Smith (five steals) and senior James Graves (four steals) ignited the Mountaineers’ defense, as each notched two steals in that span.

The Mountaineers’ defense sparked a 10-0 run to open the second half that gave Madison County a 30-26 lead with 4:35 remaining in the third period.

“We talked about how we wanted to pressure the ball and I don’t think we executed in the first half,” said Breeden, whose team forced 20 turnovers and made 14 steals. “We tried to hammer home the message at halftime that we’ve got to pressure the ball to force them to have to make plays under pressure. I thought we did a good job of that.”

Sophomore Cameron Ford — who led Warren County with 16 points — kept the Wildcats close in the third period with two 3-pointers, and Warren County trailed 38-34 entering the fourth period.

Madison County (3-4, 3-2 Bull Run) took control with a 12-3 run over the first five minutes of the final quarter to take a 50-37 lead. The Mountaineers made a determined effort to attack Warren County’s zone defense in the second half and experienced good results. Madison County made 14 of 28 shots in the final two quarters after shooting 33 percent in the first half.

Warren County had trouble containing the driving ability of Smith, who finished with 16 points and created open looks for several of his teammates with his penetration off the dribble. Sophomore De’Ondre Twyman led Madison County with 17 points to go along with nine rebounds, while 6-foot-5 forward Dylan Breeden had 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

“In the first half we were getting past the first layer of the defense but we weren’t converting at the basket,” Ben Breeden said. “That was the thing we talked about doing … is when we break the defense down we want to be ready to catch and finish. Tonight in the second half I thought we did a better job of that.”

Poor free throw shooting by Madison County (the Mountaineers made only 10 of 27 shots from the line) kept the Wildcats within striking distance late in the fourth period, but Warren County shot only 30 percent (18 for 59) in the game and couldn’t close the gap quickly enough over the final two minutes of play.

Ford knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the night in the waning seconds to pull Warren County within four points.

Warren County was hot from beyond the 3-point arc early, as senior Austin King hit two treys and junior Clyde Ritchie made a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 9-2 lead in the first 2½ minutes of the first period. Another 3-pointer by senior Austin Thrane gave the Wildcats a 14-6 lead at the end of the frame.

Warren County hit 6 of 13 shots from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, but cooled off considerably over the final two quarters. The Wildcats hit 9 of 25 3-point attempts in the loss.

“I was proud of how we battled,” Mathews said. “I think we took another step forward and we just need to continue to build on that.”

Junior Robert Rutherford had 10 points and five rebounds for Warren County, while Ritchie had seven points, six rebounds and six assists. D’andre Lawrence had seven points and six rebounds for the Wildcats.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com