By Mark Robinson
One night after the New England Patriots won an historic Super Bowl in overtime, the Independence Patriots came to Fairlea to play Greenbrier East.
Pushing this game into extra time, these Patriots came up a bit short, losing 83-76 in a game that was tied with 39 seconds left in overtime. It was at that moment that Nethaniel Patton swished a three-point shot from the corner to put East ahead by three, and propel them on to their victory.
Patton held the hot hand in the game, hitting seven of his 11 three-point shots, and leading all East scorers with 25 points. The dynamo for Independence was short, stocky Dylan Dickens, whom an assistant coach described as “maybe the strongest player we’ve ever had here at Independence.” Dickens hit 18 of his 25 shots, all of them two-pointers, a torrid .720 shooting percentage that was almost all on quick passes underneath to Dickens for a layup. He finished with 37 points, almost half of his team’s total.
Seth Brown did his usual excellent job of floor management, running the offense and defending against Independence’s all-state guard Tyler Haga. Haga scored 21 points, but had trouble creating shots. When he did, he was frequently badly off target. Haga is the leader of his team, at 6 foot 3inches, a tall guard on a short squad. Independence did a pretty good job breaking East’s press, pushing the ball up the floor with as much speed as possible. On the break, and out of their set offense, they excelled at driving to the basket, drawing multiple defenders to the ball, then dishing to a teammate, usually Dickens, for a layup. The passing was quick and accurate, and usually needed to be, because East’s defense tends to be swarming and overwhelming. Both teams used quick hands to repeatedly strip the ball from their opponents, sometimes leaving players rising to the basket only to discover their hands with no ball, which by that point was headed the other direction in the hands of someone whose uniform was a different color.
Both teams emphasize their guard play, so if there were no openings in the lane, they took medium and long-range jumpers. Brown can usually penetrate and create shots at will. The Spartans missed Jasiah Rawls’ size inside. Rawls is out with an ankle injury.
Independence head coach Chad Perkins was not at the game, instead spending time with a brother who is in the hospital. Assistant coaches Scotty Cuthbert and David Saunders ran the game for the Patriots. The teams were well matched, as both lack numerous big men to play in the lane. East’s Evan Canterbury went up against Independence’s Logan Kelley, both about the same size.
Coach Jim Justice said after the game, “We have a bunch of kids who are hurting. Jasiah, Zion, Evan. We could have dropped our heads a little bit, but we didn’t. Independence has a nice team. We played a nice game. Nethaniel hit a heck of a shot over there. We came out at halftime and they went on a nice run. Our boys did a really nice job listening, because we changed the defense about three times, right there going down to the wire, when they were holding the ball at the end. We got it to overtime. At the end we were in a four-man man, one-man zone, we went out of that into a two-man man, three-man zone, then into a two-three zone with four seconds left.
Player Evan Canterbury spoke afterward: “In the first half we did well, in the second half we let them get back into it. It was a hard fought game. Number 44 was strong, he has strong legs. He boxed everybody out but I think he was pushing a little bit. He got called for that a couple of times, but they could have called him on it more.”
Brown said, “We shot the ball a lot better than we have been. Nathaniel played a great game. Even though they scored 76, we played harder than we have been. When we played man I guarded Tyler. He’s a good player, we’ve played together in AAU. I tried to get a hand up on him when he was shooting.”
The victory brought East’s record to 11-5.