Leemen overwhelm Falcons in regional first round

STAUNTON – Central’s boys basketball team studied at length what they could expect to see from Robert E. Lee in Friday’s first round game of the Region 2A East tournament.

The Falcons watched four or five of the Fighting Leemen’s games on film in practice this week, pointing out Lee’s athleticism and size. But it’s one thing to see those types of intangibles on film, and another thing completely to witness it in person.

The Leemen proved too much for Central to handle Friday night, and the Falcons’ season came to an end with a 71-45 road loss. Lee advances to play Bruton in the second round.

“We knew what they were gonna do, they’ve been doing the same thing for 50 years,” Central coach Brandon Shields said. “But again they execute it so well and it’s hard to simulate. And they’re good. They’re good and they played well. … They made plays and their athleticism kind of overwhelmed us. Their length overwhelmed us, made us uncomfortable.”

With Lee (15-10) dominating the interior behind 6-foot-7 forwards Jarvis Vaughan – who had a game-high 26 points – and Darius George (18 points), Central (13-9) needed to shoot well from the perimeter if it hoped to remain competitive. But the team that broke the school record for 3-pointers made in a season earlier this year came up empty time after time Friday night, continuing what Shields said had been a trend for the Falcons over the last couple weeks.

Central hit just 31.1 percent (14 for 45) of its shots from the floor and was 4 for 22 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“In all honesty we still got shots, we just didn’t make shots,” said Shields, who predicted before the game the Falcons would need to make eight or nine threes to stay competitive. “We got shots, we ran the stuff we wanted to, we were patient, we reversed the ball a couple times. We got great looks for the people we wanted to get looks for, they just didn’t fall. Just didn’t fall tonight.”

Although the Falcons didn’t get off to the “good start,” Shields said they wanted against the Leemen. Central trailed only 16-11 at the end of the first period after junior point guard Ian Pugh’s 3-pointer and stickback off his own miss in a 30-second span.

Lee then opened things up in the second period, out-scoring the Falcons 18-5 in the frame to take a 34-16 lead into halftime. Central turned the ball over four times in the period and was 2 for 10 from the field.

“We talked about it all week leading up to tonight about they score their points off of bad shots, or quick shots, and turnovers. I think we did that in the second quarter,” Shields said. “We lost ourselves a little bit and they made some plays because we weren’t disciplined enough in what we were trying to accomplish.”

Falcons sophomore Luke Estep – who accounted for all five of Central’s points in the second period and finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds – pulled Central within 20-14 with his 3-pointer from the wing with 6:10 left in the first half, but the Leemen closed the quarter on a 14-2 run.

George did damage from the perimeter with a pair of 3-pointers for the Leemen in the second quarter, while Vaughan had 8 points while providing matchup problems for Central in the paint.

Lee finished the game with 42 points in the paint – which helped contribute to a 55.1 percent mark from the floor – and held a 33-25 advantage on the boards.

Leemen coach Jarrett Hatcher said he hoped his team would use its size to its advantage after failing to do so in an overtime loss to Page County in the Conference 36 championship game last Saturday.

“I was really worried about Brandon’s team,” said Hatcher, who noted that he was an assistant coach for his father, Paul, the last time Lee played Central 15 years ago. “He’s got great shooters. … I thought potentially they’ve got so many guys (that can shoot). They didn’t make a lot of shots tonight. We were fortunate in that regard. We wanted to sustain their 3-point shooting and we hoped that we could score inside. And I was pleased with the way that went.”

R.E. Lee pushed its lead to as much as 19 points in the third period before Central cut the deficit back to 14 on a driving bucket by Varsey Bright and a pair of free throws by Estep to open the fourth quarter. That would be as close as the Falcons would get, however, as the Leemen erupted for 26 points in the final period.

Bright (seven rebounds), Pugh (four rebounds) and Josh Orndorff each had seven points for Central, while Austin Fadely added 6 points for the Falcons.

Despite Friday’s season-ending loss, Shields said Central’s season was filled with “a lot of highs,” which included wins over William Monroe and Madison County earlier this winter. The Falcons will graduate six seniors.

“I think the sky’s the limit for this program,” Shields said. “I think we’re turning the corner as far as what the vision for us is, and these seniors really laid down the foundation for us. When I got the job three years ago this was the group that I saw and was like ‘these guys can help us get this thing going the other way.’ I’m just so appreciative of what they’ve done for Central High School, for me and for the basketball program here.”

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