The Potomac boys’ basketball team warms up in shirts with “Championship behavior” written across the chest. No matter the situation, the Panthers pride themselves on keeping their composure. Facing a raucous crowd and a double-digit deficit against Potomac Falls on Thursday night in Sterling, the defending state titlists behaved every bit like champions.
After taking an early gut punch, Potomac’s players chipped away at the lead with shutdown defense. Their offensive rebounding pushed them to the lead, and their ability to make free throws propelled Potomac to a 50-43 win in the Virginia 5A North region semifinals.
“It’s all about the mind-set. We don’t fold under pressure,” senior point guard Elyjah Camp said. “It’s never about what other teams do. It’s about our mind-set. We play with championship behavior, and we’re trying to get another one.”
In a game decided in the paint, Potomac (22-2) leaned on 6-foot-7 senior center Nana Opoku to protect the rim. With 30 seconds left, Potomac Falls senior guard Christian Sweazie made a steal, sped to the rim and went in for a layup. From behind, Opoku swatted the ball off the glass to preserve a four-point lead.
“As soon as I see the ball leave his hands, that’s when I decide to take off,” said Opoku, who finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. “Tonight was a matter of just being tough and fighting and seeing who wants it more.”
Potomac Falls (19-7) led 20-5 in the second quarter and 27-17 at halftime. After being shredded early, Potomac stuck with its fullcourt press, and the dividends came in the second half. In the fourth quarter, the hosts missed 10 of 13 foul shots.
“We felt like for sure that we could beat them in our house, and now we feel like we let it get away,” Potomac Falls Coach Jeff Hawes said. “We’re going to stay positive because that shows right there that we can play with anybody in the state.”
Junior David Walls led Potomac Falls with 16 points. Camp posted 10 points and four assists while steadying Potomac’s offense at point guard.
In the other region semifinal, Albemarle closed the third quarter on a 9-0 run to take a two-point lead on its way to a 82-70 victory over Wakefield. Potomac will face Albemarle on Saturday in the region final. Potomac Falls will face Wakefield in the third-place game to determine seeding for the state tournament.
The Wakefield girls’ team advanced to its first state tournament earlier this week, but Thursday night in Leesburg, the Warriors proved that they’re out for more. By limiting Tuscarora to its lowest scoring total of the season, Wakefield advanced to the 5A North region final with a 47-39 win.
“We held them below 50, and that’s what we set out to do,” Coach Marcia Richardson said. “We have five seniors, so we understand that we’re not happy with just getting there. We’re there to win it.”
Wakefield will face Conference 13 rival Edison (18-7) on Saturday night. Edison advanced by beating Atlee, 57-48. The Eagles have defeated the Warriors three times this season.
“It’s a local rival that already beat us three times, so we know what to expect,” Richardson said. “There’s going to be some good girls’ basketball on Saturday night.”
● NOTTOWAY 43, GEORGE MASON 37: In a Virginia 2A East region semifinal, Nottoway knocked off George Mason despite 14 points from senior guard Sarah Lubnow. The Mustangs (21-5) will face Stuarts Draft in Saturday’s third-place game.