River basketball team making return trip to Final Four

The James River basketball team is going to Richmond for the third time in the past four years. The Knights will play Dan River on Friday at 12:15 p.m.

The other semifinal will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday when Lebanon takes on Buckingham County. The two winners meet for the Group A, Division 2 state championship at 5 p.m. Saturday, and all games are at the Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Patrick Bennett gets the jump ball at the start of Friday's state quarterfinal game with Honaker. Photo by Brian Hoffman
Patrick Bennett gets the jump ball at the start of Friday's state quarterfinal game with Honaker. Photo by Brian Hoffman

River has been to VCU twice in recent years, but hasn’t made the final. In 2007, River lost to Clarke County in the semifinal, and last year the Knights were disappointed when Radford hit a last second shot to beat the Knights.

Two River starters, Ethan Humphries and Patrick Bennett, started on both of those teams and will be going to the state tournament for the third. Not many players can say they participated in three state “Final Fours.”

Friday’s opponent, Dan River, comes in with a 14-8 record. The Wildcats lost to Radford in the championship game last year, 60-49, but graduated their best player. Dan River beat Essex in this year’s quarterfinal round, 48-45.

“They’re pretty talented,” said River coach Mike Goad of the Wildcats. “They have speed and a lot of quickness. They go 10 deep and they like to play an up-tempo game, with a lot of fast breaks.”

In most cases, that would play into James River’s hands. The Knights also play an up-tempo style and have been successful against teams that like to run the floor. Goad compares Dan River to Liberty or Radford.

“They like to use their speed and quickness to press,” he said. “We’re going to have to set the tempo and get good shots. And we’re going to have to make our foul shots.”

Free throw shooting has been a strength of the Knights this year, but in most games it didn’t make a difference since River was so far ahead. Last Friday at the Salem Civic Center the Knights were just 12 for 24 from the line but they still beat Honaker in a state quarterfinal, 69-48.

“We’re going to have to improve our foul shooting,” said Goad. “When you get to this point of the season it could win you a game or cost you a game.”

River was heavily favored against Honaker and the Knights were never threatened in the quarterfinal win. River led 18-8 after the first quarter and 31-20 at the half. Honaker played hard, but it was easy to see the Knights were the more talented team.

“Athletically, we were certainly better,” said Goad. “They like to shoot threes and we held them to 14 percent shooting on threes, but they were scrappy. We weren’t as intense as I’d like on the boards.”

Indeed, the Tigers out-rebounded River, 40-30, for the game. However, Honaker had 22 turnovers and River shot the ball much better, hitting 54 percent from the field.

Patrick Bennett led the Knights with 21 points, hitting nine of 16 from the floor. Humphries had 12 points and six steals. Jordan Talbott had 11 points and John Bennett had 10 as River put four boys in double figures in a balanced attack.

The win gave River a 26-2 record for the season and the Knights are undefeated against Group A competition. But they’ve been this far before with a similar record, and this time they’re heading north to complete the job.

“It’s been a very pleasurable four years,” said Goad, who has led the Knights to a 98-12 record in the past four seasons. “We’re looking forward to this and it would be great to finish it off with a victory, but whatever happens we’ll give it our best.”

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