RICHMOND — Unadulterated joy, the kind that had proved so elusive for the Westfield boys’ basketball team, was overflowing Wednesday night for the Bulldogs. The picture of it may have been Tyler Scanlon, arms extended toward the rafters of Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center, following Westfield’s 74-56 win against Oscar Smith.
It was on this same floor one year ago that the Bulldogs had watched that feeling slip away in the state final, placing each player on a collective mission to get back to this game and write a different history.
This time the No. 7 Bulldogs left no doubt, racing to a double-digit lead in the opening minutes and never looking back en route to their first basketball state championship.
“We don’t win these championships without last year because that motivation was unbelievable,” Scanlon said. “Every time you wanted to walk away, it was, ‘Man, you were this close to getting your ring sized.’ When you have a motivation like that and some talent, that’s really what gets you there.”
Just three months had passed since the two schools met in the Virginia 6A state football final, marking the first time that has happened since 1921. Though Wednesday’s rematch on the court featured fewer dramatics than the triple-overtime thriller in December, the result remained the same.
Westfield became the first school to win the basketball and football titles in Virginia’s highest classification since Hampton did it during the 1988-89 school year.
After seeing the shooting display put on by Oscar Smith (24-5) in the previous day’s semifinals, Westfield Coach Doug Ewell emphasized the importance of perimeter defense to his team. But during the first half, it was the Bulldogs (26-3) who held the hot hand from the outside.
Led by Hank Johnson’s four three-pointers, the Bulldogs shot nearly 43 percent from behind the arc, effectively neutralizing the inside presence of Oscar Smith shot-blocker Nyzaiah Chambers. The Tigers, on the other hand, made just one of their seven first-half three-pointers.
“Tyler and Blake [Francis] get so much attention and rightfully so, and they just give me good open looks, and I just knock them down when I get the chance,” Johnson said. “When my name is called, I try and answer it.”
In jumping out to a 14-2 lead, Westfield also thrived on the glass. The Bulldogs outrebounded Oscar Smith 34-18 overall, creating second-chance opportunities on offense while limiting the Tigers’ scoring opportunities on the other end.
The second half, however, brought a more aggressive Bulldogs team. With Oscar Smith standouts Chambers and Darin Pugh in foul trouble, Westfield attacked the paint to create easy points at the foul line, where Westfield made 28 of 33.
Scanlon (22 points) was especially assertive in the third quarter, scoring nine point (including a vicious dunk) to give Westfield its largest lead at 22 points.
Scanlon had plenty of help from his teammates, who patiently worked the ball through their offense for open looks. By game’s end, the Bulldogs had 14 assists to the Tigers’ six.
One of the last of those assists helped stave off a last-ditch Oscar Smith rally. After Francis (23 points) diverted a pass and then ran into the scorer’s table, the senior leaked downcourt and fielded an outlet pass from Scanlon, soaring in for a fourth-quarter layup that kept the Bulldogs in command.
“This one was a special one for us. We really wanted to get this state title for [Coach Ewell], and that’s what we did,” Francis said. “It’s really been a special year. We fought through adversity, and that’s what makes this team so resilient, so tough.”