Gallery by Heather Belcher
Charleston – Tucker County had hoped to put the reins on the James Monroe Mavericks in Saturday’s Class A championship game.
But as he has throughout his entire career, Mavericks all-stater Eli Allen proved untamable.
In his final game as a Maverick, Allen burned the Mountain Lions all afternoon scoring a game-high 29 points on 12 of 16 shooting, guiding James Monroe to its second consecutive Class A title with a 66-35 victory in the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
The win marks the second time in school history a program has won back-to-back titles with the 2001 and ’02 girls basketball teams being the first to achieve that honor.
Allen, an Evans Award candidate, capped his stellar career by tying the Class A tournament record for most field goals made with 32. In total he shot 66 percent from the field across three games, leading the field in points (74), points per game (24.7), field goals attempted (48), field goals made (32) and assists (18).
“Truthfully I just run the sets,” Allen said of his offensive production. “Coach put us in the right position going from there. I didn’t shoot the ball the best the first two games from outside or the free throw line but I made it up with layups and midrange (shots).”
Allen’s tournament was a reflection of his team’s success Saturday as the Mavericks shot 58 percent from the field, holding Tucker County to 31 percent shooting.
In that statistical comparison was the story of the game as Tucker made four of its eight shots in the opening quarter to keep it close but shot 42, 23 and 14 percent in the following three quarters, respectively.
“Defense just wears on you,” James Monroe head coach Matt Sauvage said. “When defense is all in your face all game long, you get tired. You get sick of somebody just standing right up in you. And that’s what these boys do. I’ll be honest, in practice they annoy us sometimes because there’s so much of just going after it. I think by the third quarter it was just starting to wear on them and that was the whole goal.”
Allen proved unstoppable from the jump, scoring seven of his team’s 13 first-quarter points but he was largely flanked by an unlikely member from the James Monroe ensemble.
Juan Hopkins, who didn’t play last year, brought effort and rebounding as he had all season, providing a pair of offensive rebounds and tip-ins to supplement Allen in the opening frame. He finished with eight points and seven rebounds with five of them coming on the offensive glass.
“Juan, we told him at the beginning of the season, ‘You may play some,'” James Monroe head Sauvage said. “We were having the talk in the locker room and said ‘There’s a chance you may play some or may just get some minutes here and there.’ By the first game he was starting and obviously you can tell by tonight there’s a reason for that and I thought Juan had a great year.”
Allen and Hopkins’ efforts culminated in a 13-9 advantage for the Mavs after a frame but they didn’t stop there. Hopkins opened the second quarter with another layup before Josh Burks added a 3 and Allen another layup to push the advantage to 10. Trevan Bonner, who led Tucker with 14 points, stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws and a 3 that later made it a 21-14 game but Allen was there for the answer, swishing his own trey to push the advantage to 10 at 24-14.
A pair of Tucker free throws again brought the deficit to eight but Burks, Allen and Hopkins were all good for two points each, pushing the lead to 14 points. Tucker grabbed the momentum before the break with buckets from Owen Knotts and Bonner in the final 22 seconds that slashed it to 10 but it proved to be the Mountain Lions’ last gasp.
The Mavericks held Tucker to 3 of 13 shooting in the third quarter, winning the frame 18-8 to push their advantage to 20. Allen added eight of those points with a pair of 3s and layup but also found his teammates diving to the basket for easy, open looks.
“They don’t like to switch,” Sauvage said of Tucker. “They were going to get behind the ball and Coach (Todd) Lusk brought that play from Narrows, Va. But he brought that play with us and some games it was able to work really well and other games it wouldn’t work quite as well because of the switch but thankfully tonight on that second dive they were running behind so we were able to get a couple quick hoops off that.”
Leading 48-28 after three quarters, the Mavericks were never threatened, seeing their lead drop to just 19 before a 10-0 run proved to be the finishing touches on the Mavericks’ second title in as many years.
This season’s championship, while different from last year’s, came in the same dominating fashion. All six of James Monroe’s state tournament games over the last two seasons were won by 20-plus points each time, though this season’s run proved more dominant. Last year the Mavs won their tournament games by an average of 28.3 points per game. They topped that mark with a 34-point margin of victory on average.
“Some people kind of say ‘You’re single-A, you’re not that good,'” Allen said. “I think coming down here and winning every game by double digits just shows we can compete at every level.”
In their final games as Mavericks Collin Fox, Josh Burks and Owen Jackson scored 4, 13 and 2 points.
Burks, Jackson and Allen earned all-tournament honors and were joined by Bonner, Ashton Lycliter (Tucker), Braydun Ferris (Tug Valley), Colby Barr (Clay-Battelle) and Preston Luzader (Clay-Battelle).
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