CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Team 23’s 74-71 victory over Herd That in Monday’s second-round TBT matchup may have been advantageous in more ways than allowing the team to advance to Wednesday’s 9 p.m. regional final against Best Virginia.
The victory over Marshall’s alumni-based squad came on JD Sword’s 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired during an Elam Ending with a target score of 72. Sword’s triple silenced the largely partisan Herd That crowd at Charleston Coliseum, which will be an obstacle Team 23 faces again in the round-of-16 matchup with Best Virginia.
“Everything is a road game for us,” Team 23 coach Marc Hughes said. “We don’t have a home environment, because we’re from everywhere. We’re from all the way across. Every win is just another win. We’re happy to get to the next step and we have to look at it one at a time right now.”
Sword’s efficient 5-for-5 performance allowed him to score 13 points, with 6-foot-10 Raphiael Putney leading Team 23 with 15. Eric Griffin added 10 points, while 11 different Team 23 players scored.
Putney led five Team 23 double figure scorers with 19 points in a convincing opening-round win over Georgia Kingz, while point guard Walt Lemon was key in that win with 12 points and nine assists.
“He’s our glue,” Hughes said of Putney. “Offensively, he’s so tall and agile you can compare him a little to (Kevin) Durant in his ability to handle the ball and shoot it. Defensively, he guards one through five and allows us to do a lot of things.”
After sputtering for much of the Elam Ending in a 70-67 opening-round win over WoCo Showtime, No. 2 seed Best Virginia was far better down the stretch Monday in its 63-51 win over D2.
Leading 57-51, Best Virginia got back-to-back 3s from Tarik Phillip and Nate Adrian to seal the verdict, while the outcome was hardly in doubt late.
Kevin Jones was BV’s leading scorer for the second straight game with 13 points. Phillip, Adrian and Jamel Morris poured in 11 apiece to help provide a balanced effort.
“You adjust from team to team, but coach has said focus on what we do,” Jones said. “Schemes don’t matter as much as having the will to win and that’s what happened (Monday). How bad did we want to win? That’s what it came down to.”
With Juwan Staten limited to eight points over the first two games of TBT, Phillip has stepped up in a big way at point guard, averaging 11 points, 6.5 rebounds and five assists.
“Tarik is a great player, so we trust him with the ball in his hands just like we do the rest of our guards,” Jones said. “He’s had it going, had the mindset of attacking and once he has that mindset, he’s hard to stop.”
Still, defense was Best Virginia’s top strength against D2, which made only 6-of-30 3s and shot 18 of 57 (36 percent) in the loss.
Team 23 figures to pose a tougher challenge, perhaps partially due to its surplus of size. In addition to Putney, Griffin is 6-10, while starter Daniel Ochefu is 6-11 and reserves Charles Mitchell and E. Victor Nickerson stand 6-8.
“If you’re in the tournament at this point in time, you have great makeup and chemistry and that’s what Team 23 has,” Best Virginia coach James Long said. “They have a solid group of guys. But we’re focused on ourselves and if we can be the best version of ourselves, I’ll ride with these guys anytime.”
The winner of Best Virginia-Team 23 will meet the winner of Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game in Charleston between top seed Sideline Cancer and No. 12 Bucketneers. That contest will take place July 31 at University of Dayton with a spot in the Final Four at stake.