EVANS -- A disastrous six-minute stretch in the third quarter that saw Heritage surrender a 20-6 run to Greenbrier turned a one-point Patriot lead into a 13-point deficit in the blink of an eye Tuesday night in the first round of the Region 3-AAAAAA Tournament at Evans.
On the brink of collapsing in the biggest game of the season, the Patriots were in desperate need of a spark and received one in the form of RJ Noord and James White when the game mattered the most.
The duo of Noord and White helped mount an 18-0 run in less than two minutes to grab an eight-point lead and the Patriots never looked back en route to a 74-66 win over the Wolfpack.
With the win, the Patriots (17-9) punched their ticket into the Class AAAAAA state playoffs, a moment first-year head coach Brian Anderson couldn’t wait to share with his team in the locker room after the game.
“This is the best I’ve felt since I got the job in May,” Anderson said. “We’re ready to dance. All of the pressure is now out of the building. I still think we have a way to go to reach our potential as a basketball team and I’m anticipating us reaching our potential that lies within us over the next few days.”
In what was a game of runs, Heritage’s runs came in response to Greenbrier’s, a team that did its best to spoil the Patriots’ season Tuesday night.
The games’ first run went in favor of the Wolfpack, who opened the game on a 14-4 run in less than four minutes. The Wolfpack nailed two three-pointers during the run and forced three Heritage turnovers, all of which turned into points.
The next six minutes, however, were dominated by the Patriots. A White tip-in with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter was the start of a 21-0 run by Heritage that carried over well into the second quarter.
The Patriots closed out the final three minutes of the first quarter on a 14-0 run to grab an 18-14 lead and increased it to 25-14 on a Courtney McBride layup with 5:33 remaining in the second.
The Heritage run was sparked by great full-court defense that saw the Patriots force 11 turnovers during the six-minute stretch. On the offensive end, the Patriots attempted 18 shots and made seven of them while holding Greenbrier to 0-of-7 shooting from the field.
“That was huge, I didn’t realize it was 21-0,” Anderson said. “I told the guys during one of those timeouts that I’d rather not call a play. I’d rather us get steals, cause turnovers and attack the rim. That run is a testament to their defensive pressure and their team defensive pressure. They worked together well.”
Leading 34-24 with 1:29 remaining, the Patriots ended the first half sloppy and allowed four straight points to the Wolfpack, trimming their halftime lead to 34-28.
Heritage’s sloppy play continued well into the third quarter and the Patriots could only watch as their lead evaporated with quick pace. The Wolfpack took control of the game with four three-pointers in the quarter and held Noord and White in check for the first seven minutes.
With Greenbrier’s lead trimmed to 10 points with 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Noord scored the games’ next six points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the free throw line.
His first two with eight seconds remaining in the third cut the deficit to 55-47 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I definitely felt comfortable in that situation,” Noord said. “We had a whole fourth quarter and I just told the guys to stay composed and stay together. I wanted to get aggressive and get to the free throw line.”
Following a Christian Davis layup that trimmed the Wolfpack lead to two points, Davis found a trailing Noord who drilled a three-pointer fading away to his right to give the Patriots the lead back, 56-55.
“That felt really good,” Noord said of his three-pointer. “I passed the ball to Christian to slow it down. He rushed up and I said, ‘trail, trail.’ He passed it to me and I kind of faded. I thought I was going to miss it because I tried to fade it like Kobe. I made it and it felt good.”
Greenbrier’s first made shot from the field in the fourth quarter didn’t come until the 3:10 mark. At that point, the Patriots held a 65-61 lead before Davis connected on a clutch floater to extend their lead back out to six points.
Looking to close out the game at the free throw line, the Patriots did just that. Junior Dash Boston gave Heritage a 69-64 lead after converting a huge 1-and-1 situation and went on to make three more free throws to extend their lead out to eight points, 72-64 with just over 30 seconds remaining.
After shooting 9-for-17 from the field in the third quarter, the Patriots held the Wolfpack to just 3-for-17 shooting in the fourth quarter. All-in-all, the Patriots out-scored the Wolfpack 27-11 in the fourth quarter.
“A team like (Greenbrier), they can all shoot the three,” Anderson said. “They might struggle with pressure, but if they get their feet set and their shoulders squared, there are a handful of guys that are dangerous. I anticipated them making a run. We were fortunate enough to keep our composure down the stretch.”
White ended his night with a game-high 26 points while Noord scored 20. McBride chipped in with nine points, all of which were scored in the first half.
While it wasn’t White’s best night of the season shooting the ball, the standout junior still found ways to score when he needed to and was all smiles after helping lock up a playoff spot in his first season playing varsity basketball.
“It feels good,” White said. “We have a seed in the playoffs now.”
The Patriots will now gear up for a showdown with No. 2 seed Evans on Thursday night in the semifinals. The Patriots split with the Knights in the regular season with each team winning on their home court.
The winner will advance to the Region 3-AAAAAA championship game on Friday while the loser will play in the third-place game.
“They’re a well-coached, disciplined team with a few stars of their own,” Anderson said of Evans. “I anticipate a chess match. But I also anticipate us playing our best basketball Thursday. I am excited about the matchup. We have nothing to lose and we’re coming in here loose as a goose.”
Junior guards James White and RJ Noord of Heritage combined for 46 points to lead their Patriots squad to a 74-66 win over Greenbrier. Heritage will face the host squad Evans Knights in the region semifinals. pic.twitter.com/zcyVqwwVnY— Chad Cook's AugBball (@AugBball) February 5, 2020