Familiarity breeds respect. That's not exactly the timeless adage, but it was precisely the case Monday night when Hampton and Kecoughtan collided for the fourth time this high school basketball season.
How else to explain the new wrinkles coaches Walter Brower and Ivan Thomas unveiled in this Eastern Region championship game at Scope? When teams are this familiar and evenly matched — the aggregate of their first three games was 212-212 — coaches search for any possible edge.
So there was Kecoughtan playing a deceptive match-up zone defense that resembled a box-and-one, all designed to slow Anthony Barber, Hampton's slippery guard.
And there were the Crabbers using not one, not two, not three but four different presses to quicken the pace and harass the Warriors into turnovers.
Both strategies worked. Hampton hurried Kecoughtan into 22 turnovers. The Warriors limited Barber to 6-of-21 shooting until the final 2:15.
But the waning moments of taut championship games are where the elite emerge, and Barber did just that. He scored 10 points in the final 132 seconds, connecting on four layups and two free throws as the Crabbers pulled away for a 50-42 victory.
In a defensive tug-of-war, Barber finished with 24 points, 14 more than anyone else. He added a team-high 11 rebounds and game-bests of three assists and three steals.
Odd shooting form and 10-of-25 accuracy notwithstanding, it's easy to see why the likes of Duke, Kansas, Virginia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina State are intrigued by this 6-foot-3 junior. He is, in short, virtually indefensible off the dribble.
That's hardly news to the Warriors. Hampton and Kecoughtan split road victories during the regular season before the Crabbers prevailed in a one-game playoff for the Peninsula District's automatic bid to the Eastern Region tournament.
Moreover, these young men know one another from offseason competition, organized in AAU, no-holds-barred on the playgrounds.
That was, in part, what made the first all-PD Eastern final in 10 years so compelling. The game itself was far from riveting, as the low score and shooting percentages, 35.6 for each, indicate.
The offensive struggles were in direct contrast to Woodside, the Peninsula District girls champion that waxed defending state champ Princess Anne 54-34 for the Eastern Region title earlier Monday. The Wolverines in the second half shot 62.5 percent and committed a scant four turnovers.
Coach Mike Tallon has said throughout that last season's Wolverines were more talented, which makes this regional championship, his first at Woodside after seven at Phoebus, all the more rewarding.
"Absolutely," he said, "because it's chemistry. These kids are very unselfish. (Adrienne) Motley is one of the most unselfish kids you'll find. She's just as happy passing for an assist, and sometimes I really have to make her shoot the ball."
Motley scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting to complement four rebounds, three assists and two steals to send Woodside (27-1) to Saturday's state quarterfinals against Roanoke's William Fleming at William and Mary Hall.
Hampton's boys (24-5) also head to William and Mary, where Saturday they face Osbourn. Meanwhile, Kecoughtan (21-9) travels to Fairfax to face Gar-Field.
The extended rest will most benefit Warriors forward Rodney Bullock, who corralled a game-high 13 rebounds Monday but missed 8-of-10 shots on a bum ankle.
"I got a heck of a team," Thomas said. "My big guy (Bullock) couldn't push off that leg. That's not an excuse, but I think he would have made most of those shots (were the ankle healthy)."
Kecoughtan and Hampton are two victories each away from a fifth encounter and the first Group AAA championship game matching teams from the same district.
"It wouldn't surprise me," Hampton assistant coach Eric Brown said.
"I'm hoping that we will," Kecoughtan's Thomas said. "I'm hoping that we will."
(that feature Peninsula area teams)
•Osbourn vs. Hampton, 2:45 p.m. Saturday (W&M)
•Kecoughtan vs. Gar-Field, 6:30 p.m. Saturday (Robinson)
•William Fleming vs. Woodside, 4:30 p.m. Saturday (W&M)
•Tabb vs. Potomac Falls, 2:45 p.m. Saturday (Robinson)
•Loudoun Valley vs. Grafton, 6:30 p.m. Saturday (W&M)
•Grafton vs. Millbrook, 7 p.m. Friday (JMU)Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times