RICHMOND — For years, it seemed, Hampton assistant coach Eric Brown had regaled the kids with stories from the glory days. Ronald Curry, Bobby Blizzard, Aaron Chambliss … guys who knew what the team concept was all about in that 1997 state championship run.
Fifteen years later, a new group of Crabbers who were mere toddlers back then — if that — did it the same way.
Anthony Barber led the way as usual, and the supporting cast was spot on as usual, as Hampton won an unusual Group AAA state championship with a 64-51 victory over Petersburg at the Siegel Center. It was the Crabbers' fifth state championship, their first since 1997.
"I'm not an emotional guy, but some of my teammates were crying," Barber said. "A lot of our seniors were crying, like Cam (Perry) and Jahmante (Jackson). We wanted to get it for them. We'll be back next year, and hopefully they'll be in the stands rooting for us. We had to get them a ring and a jacket before they left."
After the game had ended, Barber walked over to the press table and said, "This was for 'Monstar.' " That's the nickname for former Crabber guard Gary Smith, who died last month from cancer.
For the second straight game, Hampton (27-5) never trailed. Petersburg (29-2) pulled even at 35 late in the third quarter, but Hampton never lost its cool — not even facing a sold-out crowd that was at least 90 percent against it.
In a head-to-head matchup of the likely finalists for Group AAA Player of the Year, Petersburg's Frank Mason outscored Barber 28-21. Mason and backcourt mate Marcus Hoosier combined for 42 of Petersburg's 51 points. The rest of the Crimson Wave had nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
"We're not going to come in with any tricks no matter how great a player is," Brown said. "We'll play man-to-man defense, that's what Coach (Walter) Brower always hangs his program on. We knew Frank was great and Hoosier was great. But we knew if we locked down on the other guys and didn't let them pick and poke at us, we'd keep them under control."
From 90 seconds in, Hampton led the entire way. But when Mason hit a 3-pointer from in front of the Petersburg bench, the game was tied at 35 with 1:47 left in the third quarter. The crowd, overwhelmingly clad in crimson and gold, could be heard in Shockoe Bottom.
But Jordan Baker answered with a 3-pointer in front of his bench to put the Crabbers ahead 40-37. It came with 30 seconds left in the third, and it ended up giving Hampton the lead for good.
"They were able to withstand our run," Petersburg coach Rick Hite said. "That was a big shot, and we were never able to get over the hump. They kept on their heels pretty much all night."
Baker scored 10 of his 13 points in the final 8:30. Senior Jahmante Jackson scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and Sammie Royal had 10 points along with seven rebounds.
If you believe in omens, you'd have liked Hampton's start. Jackson's 3-pointer from the left wing was badly offline, but it banked in off the glass to give the Crabbers a 3-0 lead 22 seconds in. With a patient offense and a defense that made the Crimson Wave work, Hampton controlled the half.
The Crabbers took a 27-18 lead on Royal's free throws with 1:52 remaining in the first half. But Petersburg closed with a 4-0 run to make it a 27-22 game at the break.
Hampton shot 37 percent in the first half but turned the ball over only twice. Mason got his points (12 in the first 16 minutes) but was 3-of-11 from the field.
It was the third championship in 30 seasons for Brower, who has dealt with back issues this season that have forced him to sit during the games. To outsiders, at least, it was the most unlikely.
"This might be the best defensive group I've had," he said. "Undersized, but with a whole lot of heart. We played great defense. I mean, great defense."
HAMPTON 64, PETERSBURG 51
HAMPTON (27-5): Baker 13, Barber 21, Jackson 14, T. Perry 4, Royal 10, Adams 2. Totals 20 19-25 64.
PETERSBURG (29-2): Hoosier 14, Hicks 2, Mason 28, Thomas-Arrington 3, Haskett 2, McIntyre 2. Totals 14 20-24 51.Hampton16111324 — 64Petersburg12101514 — 513-point goals: Hampton 5 (Baker 2, Barber, Jackson 2), Petersburg 3 (Mason 3).Copyright © 2015, CT Now