HARRISONBURG – On Senior Night at Harrisonburg High School, it was Turner Ashby freshman James Sullivan who played with the poise of a veteran when it mattered most.
The wiry 6-foot-2, 150-pound point guard scored seven of his game-high 17 points in the final period, and the Knights survived an off-game from senior standout Shane Brown to top the Blue Streaks 44-34 in a Valley District boys’ basketball game Friday night.
“He’s a freshman but he doesn’t play like one,” TA coach Chad Seibert said of Sullivan. “He does a lot for us and really commands a lot of attention.”
Joining Sullivan in double figures were teammates Brenan Hanifee (11) and Taylor Corbin (10).
TA (13-6) sank just one field goal over the final five minutes – Sullivan got a friendly roll on a mid-range jumper to extend the Knights’ lead to 38-32 at the 2:24 mark – but forced HHS (5-13) into 22 turnovers to avoid the upset.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Sullivan said. “You always want to play your best basketball at the end of the season, and we’ve got a ways to go.”
Trailing 28-18 early in the third quarter, the Blue Streaks turned to reserve guard T.J. Kirkland for a spark. He sandwiched a pair of 3-point makes in between baskets by Christopher Whitelow and Matthew Shifflet to help Harrisonburg draw even at 28-all with 45 seconds left in the quarter.
“I thought [Kirkland] played great from the beginning,” HHS coach Scott Joyner said. “I mean, he got a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of loose balls – all the effort plays, which we haven’t been getting a lot this year. He’s a good shooter, and I was glad to see him have the confidence to shoot it. But that was all early offense if you noticed.”
Hanifee, though, provided an instant answer, sinking a jumper in transition following Shifflet’s tying layup to give TA the lead for good.
The bucket started a 7-0 run, and the closest Harrisonburg would get the rest of the way was at 36-32 off a nifty Whitelow up-and-under basket with 4:19 remaining.
From that point on, the Blue Streaks shot just 1-for-8 from the field and committed four turnovers.
“We just grind things out. That’s kind of who we are and how we play,” Seibert said. “So we’re comfortable doing it, but it’s not always fun to watch.”
Said Kirkland: “We played hard. We just had too many turnovers.”
If there was any moral victory to be had for Harrisonburg, it came from the team’s defensive effort on Brown. Entering play averaging a team-best 19.3 points per game, the senior guard never found a rhythm against the Blue Streaks’ matchup zone and finished with just five points. He spent most of the second half on the bench after logging just 10 minutes because of foul trouble in a win over Broadway on Tuesday.
“Tonight, he took himself out of the game,” Seibert said. “There wasn’t anything that Harrisonburg did; he took himself out of the game. It hasn’t happened in three years, but he is a human being.”
While Seibert said he didn’t feel his team could have survived this type of performance from Brown in past seasons, Sullivan’s heady ball handling and sound decision making managed to lessen the blow.
“He played well,” Joyner said. “We couldn’t stop him off the bounce. I mean, we kept fouling him. … To me, the two things [that decided the game] were the 22 turnovers and defending on the ball. That’s all they were doing at the end.”
Whitelow and senior Jalen Williams each scored eight points to lead the Blue Streaks.
Bravo 0 1-2 1, Hanifee 5 1-2 11, Corbin 3 3-4 10, Sullivan 5 6-10 17, Brown 1 2-4 5. Totals: 14 13-22 44.
Williams 3 0-0 8, Phillips 2 0-2 4, Whitelow 4 0-0 8, Shifflett 2 0-0 4, Imeson 1 0-0 2, Kirkland 2 0-0 6, Zingg 1 0-0 2. Totals:15 0-2 34.
Turner Ashby 11 13 7 13 – 44
Harrisonburg 6 10 12 6 – 34
3-Pointers—TA 3 (Corbin, Sullivan, Brown); H 4 (Williams 2, Kirkland 2). Fouls — TA 18; H 12.