MIDLOTHIAN Compared to last March, Potomac earned more of George Wythe’s respect and praise. Yet, that wasn’t enough for the Panthers to continue their season.
For the second straight season, the Bulldogs knocked Potomac out of the Group AAA boys basketball state tournament. The Central Region champions trailed late in the third quarter, but managed to pull away, 61-54, in front of a quarterfinal crowd of 2,000 fans at James River High School.
“We had to play as a team and keep them off the boards,” said Potomac’s Tyrell Freeman, a 6-foot-4 senior forward/center. “A team’s size doesn’t mean as much as having a big heart.”
No Panthers are taller than Freeman, while George Wythe features starting guards at 6-4 and 6-3, with a 6-9 center. Nevertheless, Potomac (21-6) grabbed one more rebound than George Wythe (26-2). Freeman had a game-high 10 of his team’s 31 rebounds.
“We’re not real big, but that doesn’t mean we have to be scared,” Potomac coach Kendall Hayes said. “We have tough kids who don’t back down. They think they’re bigger than they are.”
In the 2002 state semifinals in Lynchburg, George Wythe won the game, 73-53, and the matchup on the boards, 44-35. Despite losing inside presences Ian Sumers and Eric Sidberry from that club, the Northwest Region runner-up Panthers put more of a scare into Richmond’s top team Saturday night.
With a 7-0 run, Potomac took a 41-40 lead on Freeman’s 15-foot jump shot with 1:17 left in the third quarter. After a 3-pointer by George Wythe’s Greg Edwards, Potomac tied the game at 43 on Jason Flagler’s first points of the night. The Bulldogs, though, scored the next four points on a drive by the 6-4 Anthony Greene and two free throws from the 6-9 Shawn Taggart. George Wythe led the rest of the game.
Flagler, a junior all-Cedar Run District forward, finished with just six points, ending an 18-game string of double-digit showings. Junior guard Bryan Butler, who hyperextended his elbow in the final moments of the game and left the court with a sling around his arm, led all scorers with 19. Senior guard Germain Williams added 11.
While Greene’s 16 points were at his average and Taggart’s 12 were two below his, the Bulldogs received a surprising boost from junior guard/forward Edwards, who scored 15 points. That helped offset a nine-point night from junior guard Tyree Evans, who had been averaging 21.3 but struggled against Potomac’s box-and-one defense.
“I’ve only started about five games all year,” Edwards said. “Last year, I was on the junior-varsity team and I watched the Potomac game and the state final from the stands. I knew I’d get my chance to get to Lynchburg this year.”
In its fourth state tournament in five years and a runner-up last season to Cave Spring, George Wythe advanced to Friday’s semifinals at the Vines Center in Lynchburg.
“I think perseverance made the difference for our kids tonight,” George Wythe coach Frankie McMillian said. “Potomac was focused and ready to play. They had a do-or-die attitude and our kids came out underestimating them. We should have learned last year that you don’t look at the other team’s record. You just come out and play basketball.”