Virginia AAA Northern Region Boys' final
T.C. Williams vs. Annandale: Titans win fourth Northern Region title in five seasons
When the T.C. Williams boys' basketball players climbed the ladder to cut down the nets following their 59-54 win over Annandale in the Virginia AAA Northern Region final on Monday night, it was the fulfillment of a goal that dated back far beyond the start of this season.
Last year, the Titans saw their season end with forfeits and a first-round playoff exit, and players said their goal entering this season was to restore T.C. Williams back to the top of the region.
Facing its Patriot District rival Annandale for the fourth time this season, the Titans relied on the basics that have defined them throughout the season, defense and rebounding, and fought off a late Atoms rally at Robinson to win their fourth region title in five seasons.
The Titans (24-5) had opened up a nine-point lead in the third quarter, but Annandale closed it to one with 2 minutes 43 seconds remaining in the game. After hitting two free throws, the Titans got two timely steals from Tyrell Sitton and Tyler Driver that spurred a 7-1 run and provided enough breathing room for the win.
"The mentality of this team is let's stay together, stay focused, try to stay with the game plan," T.C. Coach Julian King said. "When things go bad, don't panic and just rely on our defense. That's been our focus all year long because we don't have a high-powered offense so that's what works best for us."
T.C. Williams will face Eastern Region runner-up Phoebus at 8:45 p.m. Friday at Robinson in a AAA quarterfinal. Annandale will play defending AAA champion I.C. Norcom at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at William & Mary.
On Monday, both teams struggled to find their shot early on. The Titans shot just 23 percent in the first half and trailed Annandale, 21-17, going into the break.
It didn't take long for the Titans to show they had broken out of that cold streak, however.
T.C. came out in the third quarter and immediately found better looks, slowing down the game and running a more deliberate half-court offense that pounded the ball inside more to 6-foot-5 senior Jamal Pullen and 6-6 senior Rick Mathews.
The result was a 15-2 run that spanned 41/2 minutes and helped T.C. (20-8) open up a 37-28 advantage with 1:45 remaining in the third quarter.
But Pullen (17 points, eight rebounds) and Driver, who had seven points in the fourth quarter and pulled down a key offensive rebound off his own free throw miss, provided enough for T.C. to fight off a late charge from Annandale.
"It felt great after what happened to us last year," Mathews said. "The way the season ended, coming back this year winning districts and the region, it was a great feeling."