RICHMOND — While the black and purple of Potomac Falls have become an annual sight at the Virginia state tournament, the Panthers team that took the floor for Tuesday night’s AA Division 4 semifinal against Christiansburg bore little resemblance to its predecessors.
Only senior center Greg Graves saw action when the Panthers beat the Blue Demons last year en route to a second consecutive championship.
Through the opening half of their semifinal rematch, it was the young, inexperienced Panthers who stepped up while their veteran big man struggled. But Brenden Motley’s physical post defense — with plenty of double-team help — continued to frustrate Graves in the second half, and the rest of the Panthers could not pick up the slack as Christiansburg pulled away late for a 66-52 victory at VCU’s Siegel Center.
The loss ended the Panthers’ quest to become the first boys’ basketball team to win three consecutive Virginia state titles since Martinsville accomplished the feat from 1980 to ’82.
Senior Matt Galloway and Brandon Orbe provided just enough offense early to counter torrid outside shooting from Motley, a Virginia Tech football recruit who hit three first-half three-pointers. The teams went into halftime tied at 24, and a 7-0 Panthers run early in the second half pushed their lead to 33-28. But the Blue Demons (27-2) answered with three straight three-pointers that keyed a 19-0 run. By the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Christiansburg had stretched its lead to 51-39.
“It just kind of unraveled on us,” Panthers Coach Jeff Hawes said. “They’ve come so far over these last five weeks and made very few mistakes. It all sort of caught up with us at once.”
All the while, Graves watched jump shots, floaters and layups rattle off the rim and into the hands of Blue Demons rebounders. A pair of charges — the first drawn by Motley — only added to the Mount St. Mary’s recruit’s frustration.
“I just couldn’t get the feel for the game,” Graves said. “I was just in a slump and it was hard to get out of.”
Motley finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, but did yeoman’s work bodying up Graves all night. Zach Davis finished with 15 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Demons, who forced 16 turnovers.
Graves finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks but made only 3 of 12 shots from the field. Orbe and Todd Shanosky also had 11 points apiece as the Panthers (21-9) lost for only the second time in February and March over their three-season run.
“No one in a Potomac Falls uniform or a tie can complain about this run that we’ve had,” Hawes said. “It put us on the map to stay.”