Rams to take on Panthers after weeklong layoff

Strasburg's Ryan Smoot looks to pass while Wilson Memorial's Mack Cullen defends during the first round of Region 2A basketball on Feb. 24 at Strasburg High School. The Rams travel to Bruton for Tuesday's regional quarterfinal. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STRASBURG – Strasburg’s weeklong layoff between its Region 2A East boys basketball tournament first-round and quarterfinal games brought with it a list of pros and cons.

The tournament’s weather-related delay did offer respite for Strasburg following a 54-47 first-round win over Wilson Memorial last Tuesday, a game that coach Matt Hiserman said left the Rams “pretty worn out.” And the layoff allowed the Rams to add a little extra depth to its preparation for its quarterfinal game, a luxury not typically afforded in the postseason.

But the Rams, who now must gear up to play just their third game in the last 19 days, also weren’t exactly sure who – or where – they were playing in Tuesday night’s quarterfinal game until Monday night, when Bruton topped Amelia County in their first-round contest nearly a week after the two teams were originally scheduled to meet.

“I don’t know if it’s for the better or the worse,” Rams senior forward Ryan Smoot said before practice on Monday, several hours before Strasburg learned it would travel to Williamsburg to take on Bruton in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Strasburg (21-6), which fell to the Panthers in last season’s quarterfinal round, enters Tuesday having won six of its last seven games, although the Rams have played only twice since falling to George Mason in the Bull Run District tournament championship back on Feb. 12.

Hiserman said the long layoffs between games has created some uncertainty about the Rams’ game conditioning for Tuesday’s matchup with Bruton, and senior guard Noah St. Clair said it’s been difficult for Strasburg to keep its collective focus up, a challenge the coaching staff met with competition-based drills in practice.

“From going and playing every other day and then going to practicing the last four or five days straight, it’s really hard on all of the kids to stay focused,” St. Clair said.

Strasburg, the second seed out of Conference 35, was aided by the fact that both Bruton and Amelia are similar teams, Hiserman said, which made preparation that much easier for the Rams. Strasburg planned to see an athletic opponent no matter which team took the court opposite the Rams on Tuesday.

“They’re really athletic and I think a lot of their guys play basketball maybe more than three months out of the year,” Smoot said of Bruton, last year’s Group 2A state runner-up. “They’re quick. They’re fast, probably jump a little higher than we do, run a little faster but we’re just going to have use the stuff that we do better than either team that we play.”

Bruton (18-3) – which has experienced its own schedule fluctuations this season (the Conference 33 tournament was scrapped entirely and the Panthers hadn’t played a game since Feb. 14 prior to Monday’s win) – graduated several key pieces from last season’s state tournament team, including career 1,000-point scorer Marcus Carter, the son of Panthers’ first-year coach Brenner Carter. But Hiserman said the Panthers have also returned plenty of talent, including guards Shaquan Edwards and Jalen Carr.

Hiserman said Edwards and Carr are both averaging double-figures in points for the Panthers this season and essentially “make them go.”

“Bruton’s some full-court man-to-man, some run and jump you in the half-court out of man-to-man. They will play a little bit of zone. And then they’re looking to push the ball in transition,” Hiserman said. “They’re looking to get it up and down and go four or five out on you, kind of spread you and do some things to allow those two kids [Carr and Edwards] to penetrate. If you help out they’ll kick it or dump it to a post guy down in the box.”

Hiserman added that Bruton’s athleticism will be the best that Strasburg has seen all season long, and he said he’s concerned it could take the Rams some time to adjust to that speed and quickness, which was the case in Strasburg’s 72-43 regional loss to the Panthers last season.

“We got in foul trouble early and part of it was adapting to the quickness that Bruton had and getting beat off the dribble and putting hands on guys,” Hiserman said. “So we’ve been working on some things. That was one good thing about having a couple days is we’ve been able to continuously work on some things and talk about some positions on our defensive end that we think will help us.”

Strasburg prepared for Bruton’s athleticism, and the school’s smaller basketball court that follows the old high school dimensions, by running offensive sets in practice against six and seven defenders.

Hiserman’s hope is that the Rams’ offense – a balanced attack led by sophomore Tyler Fincham (10.4 points per game), junior Tyler Brill (10 PPG), freshman Mekhi Hendricks (9.8 PPG) and Smoot (8.7 PPG) – shows patience against the Panthers.

“We can’t get caught in a run-up-and-down game with [Bruton],” Hiserman said. “Obviously we can get in transition and score some things when we get it, but we can’t get into a one pass and shoot it all the time and give it right back to them.”

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