VISAA D2 State Tournament First Round Preview

Benjamin J Veshi

In the final VISAA Division 2 Rankings, the Hargrave Tigers earned the #7 seed in this week’s VISAA Division 2 State Tournament. They will play host to Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in the First Round on Tuesday, February 26th.

This will be the third meeting between these two schools since last February and tomorrow’s game marks a rematch of last year’s VISAA Division 2 State Tournament First Round matchup where the Tigers prevailed over Nansemond-Suffolk Academy 73-63. In that game, Hargrave was paced by Benson Lin ’18 (First Team All-VISAA, First Team All-VIC), Seneca Louis ’18 (Second Team All-VIC), Cam McNeil ’18 and Maurice Wilcox ’18 who all poured in double figures. Also, IJ Ezuma ’21 really burst on to the scene in this game as he chipped in with 4 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocks. However, Hargrave only returned three members, including Ezuma, from last year’s team to start this season.

These two schools met in December when they faced off at Virginia Episcopal School in the Robert Thomas Invitational on December 8th, 2018. In an exciting, fast-paced game where both teams shot the ball exceptionally well, it was an IJ Ezuma ’21 (Raleigh, North Carolina) lay-up that tied the game up at 65-65. However, Ezuma missed the free throw and Nansemond-Suffolk scored in transition. The ensuing possession resulted in a turnover by Hargrave and Nansemond-Suffolk capitalized by making a free throw to ice the game, earned a 68-65 victory over the Tigers. Hargrave had four players in double figures that game but with Nansemond-Suffolk returning 4 out of 5 starters from last year’s team, their chemistry helped push them over the edge in the final seconds.

Tomorrow evening’s rubber match should be a great game as both teams feel prepared and ready to make a run at the VISAA Division 2 State Tournament Championship. Nansemond-Suffolk is coming off a regular season where they finished 16-9 before falling to #5 Steward School in the TCIS Conference Tournament this past week while Hargrave finished the regular season with a 12-10 overall record before falling to #1 Blue Ridge School in the VIC Conference Tournament this past Thursday.

As both teams look to right the ship in this “win or go home” type of game, Coach Veshi spoke yesterday once the bracket was set and said, “Nansemond-Suffolk is a really really good basketball team. Naturally, every team that makes it to the dance is a really really good team but Nansemond-Suffolk has 4 to 5 guys that can really hurt you if they get hot. Between Jaden Freeman, George Petteway, Kaleb Brown and Kemauri Spencer, they’ve got [four] kids that are very good now but still have some of the highest ceilings of any kids we’ve played against in my time here. We’ve had a pair of exhilarating games with those guys and we need to be prepared for a tough one again [Tuesday night]. Even though Nansemond-Suffolk had a coaching change in the off-season, those guys are more prepared than ever. They’re young, they’re talented, they defend at a high level and we’re going to have to really bring it if we want to advance to our third straight [VISAA Division 2] Elite Eight. I like our draw but it’s really important that we’re focused on defending our home court with a passion and we make the plays necessary to win on Tuesday night. Playing in a tough VIC Conference that features 4 of the top 7 teams in the state has helped prepare us for games like this. We need Walter Davis Gymnasium rockin’ on Tuesday night!”

The winner of Tuesday’s matchup will advance to the VISAA Division 2 State Tournament Elite Eight to face the #2 Virginia Episcopal School Bishops in Lynchburg on Wednesday evening. Tuesday’s tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM from Walter Davis Gymnasium.