Looking for its second straight Jefferson District championship, the Louisa County boys basketball team knew it was going to need to play at the top of its game against Charlottesville on Tuesday night.
The Black Knights, on the other hand, were looking to spoil their opponent’s efforts with a victory at home and create a four-team tie at the top of the standings.
A superior shooting performance and a strong first quarter from the Lions to start the contest proved to be the difference. Charlottesville outscored Louisa in each of the three final periods but was unable to complete the comeback, falling 64-59.
“It was big but I think it was a kind of a curse too,” Louisa coach Robert Shelton said about the Lions’ 30-12 lead after the first quarter. “As a coach, you know that’s not going to happen all game. We talked about the law of averages and we were going to have to buckle down and play some good offense.
“I thought we settled down at some points in the game. Charlottesville is a good team, a really good defensive team and it was a battle. We knew they were going to make runs and I think our guys kept their composure.”
Mahlik Munnerlyn began the scoring for Louisa with the first of five 3-pointers in the opening quarter to give the Lions the lead early. Four different players for each team scored to start the contest as the teams battled to a 13-10 score midway through the opening quarter.
The Lions then went on a 17-2 run to finish the stanza behind the play of Jarett Hunter and Xavien “Buck” Hunter. Jarett Hunter scored 10 of his 16 points on the night in the first quarter as Louisa capitalized on transition scoring with a strong defensive effort and post presence. To cap the stretch, he managed to bring the visiting Lions spectators to their feet with a shot from beyond the arc that found nothing but net as time expired in the quarter.
“They shot the lights out,” Black Knights coach Mitch Minor said. “We had our hands in their face, they had 30 points in the first quarter out of 60 the whole night. We slowly got back in it, we had our chance but that’s the best shooting I’ve seen all year long. They hit everything in the first quarter, I give them credit for that.”
Louisa had a 41-25 lead at halftime but despite the large deficit, Charlottesville continued to fight and responded resiliently with a strong performance after intermission. Jake Bowling led his team with eight points during a 10-0 stretch in the third that forced Shelton to call a timeout in an attempt to settle his team.
The break worked briefly for the Lions, but Charlottesville continued to attack the Louisa defense in the post and force turnovers that resulted in a shift of momentum. Isaiah Washington went the distance for the Black Knights following a steal to pull his team to within five points.
Munnerlyn scored on back-to-back jump shots to begin the fourth and extend Louisa’s lead back to double digits before both offenses went silent until just under three minutes remained in the game.
Christian Stewart scored five points and junior guard Khishon Gray connected on two baskets from three-point range for Charlottesville to cut Louisa’s lead to 62-59 with just over 30 seconds remaining.
In a game where neither team excelled from the free-throw line, Louisa’s Terry Neely and Isaac Haywood both went 1-of-2 in the double bonus to seal the victory.
“At some point in the game, the game went up and down and both teams were trying to will themselves to victory,” Shelton said. “Throughout most tough basketball games, there’s a period of time that you got be tough. I think that was big for us to not settle for jump shots, to kind of drive it in and to trust each other. It showed maturity and it showed our guys stepping up.”
Xavien Hunter led Louisa with 18 points, while Munnerlyn finished with 15. Bowling and Stewart led Charlottesville with 13 each.
“I give our guys credit for the valiant effort,” Minor said. “After the first, we really came out patient and did a really good job of slowly getting back to the game two at a time. Our effort was outstanding. I told them I was proud of the way they fought back.”