BY AARON PATTERSON
Silence filled the locker room and the nearby waiting area of the NJCAA Division II No. 1 Louisburg (N.C.) College Hurricanes, and third-year head coach Mark Vanderslice was still a bit groggy from what he had just witnessed, searching for words to describe the disappointment.
For only the second time this season, the Hurricanes felt the sting of a loss as the Metropolitan Community College—Penn Valley Scouts defeated the Hurricanes 88-86 to win their first national tournament game since 2010.
Louisburg College’s first defeat was a two-point loss over six weeks ago on Feb. 2 against Wake Technical Community College. Tuesday’s loss, though, came on a much bigger stage, and might take a little longer to get over.
“We’ve been down a number of times and we’ve always battled back,” Vanderslice said. “The one loss that we did have was to Wake Tech, the 20th-ranked team in the country. A lot of similar things took place in that game that took place tonight, which was, we just played uncharacteristic basketball. We weren’t selfish, we just played — things just didn’t go our way. Just kind of in a haze right now. (It’s) a little surreal.”
Penn Valley executed its plan in the first half nearly to perfection and forced Louisburg into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. The Hurricanes average only 15 per game, but the Scouts (22-12) knew that if they had a chance to advance, they would have to pressure the fast-paced Hurricanes (32-2).
“Offense was going to come,” Penn Valley sophomore guard Erin Jones said. “We knew that, but we had to get some stops because they like to run.
“We’ve played a couple teams like that, so we were used to it. We knew what we had to do.”
The Scouts scored 13 of their 32 points in the first half off of turnovers, and held a 14-point advantage at the break. It was the largest deficit the Hurricanes had faced all season. But despite the adversity, Vanderslice’s team never gave in, and ultimately put a scare into Penn Valley.
The Hurricanes pulled to within 81-78 with one minute, 48 seconds to go, and trailed only 85-83 with 25 seconds left in the game.
Louisburg’s Kevin Williams, who led all scorers with 26 points, hit a three with two seconds on the clock to pull to within 87-86. But the late surge by the Hurricanes didn’t begin soon enough, and the Scouts were able to hang on for the win.
“I was just thinking about the last game we played in our District,” Penn Valley coach Marcus Harvey said. “We were up by six with I think it was 20 seconds left, and it went into overtime. We couldn’t hit free throws, and we were fouling the wrong people. I thought this one was going to go into overtime, but the guys pulled it out, and we were fortunate to win.”
It was only the eighth time this season the Hurricanes allowed 80 or more points, and the most since giving up 90 in a win against Catawba Community College. It was also only the fifth time Penn Valley allowed 80-plus points in a win.
Louisburg’s LaShawn Alexander had the game’s only double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds while Antonio Robinson and Paul Stone each scored 12 for the Hurricanes.
Jones led the Scouts with 22 points, John Brown and Kareem Martin each scored 20, and Brandon Shively finished with 10 points and five steals.
Penn Valley will now advance to Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. contest against Brown Mackie College with the chance to avenge two losses from earlier this season.
“Three years ago when we were here, we thumped Brown Mackie twice (during the regular season),” Harvey said. “Then, we had them in the first round and they beat us. I hope the same type of situation happens that they beat us twice and we can beat them the third time.”
Louisburg will also play Thursday at 11 a.m. against Essex County. Vanderslice was pleased with the way his team responded to its first loss of the season by defeating Sandhills Community College 108-73, but he also realizes that his squad was playing under much different circumstances.
“The great thing about Danville is that you get another opportunity to play if you lose,” Vanderslice said. “It’s double elimination. The bad thing about the double elimination is that immediately after the first loss, nobody really wants to play the next game. We’ll get over it. We’ll bounce back.”
Brown Mackie defeated Essex County 95-78 on Tuesday.