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Vipers complete season-sweep over rivals Warren County

Jan. 19—HENDERSON — After a big win a little over a week ago in Warrenton, the Vipers completed the season-series sweep over the Warren County Eagles with a momentous 56-47 victory in the much-anticipated rematch on their home court.

The Vipers were able to enjoy their home fans, even if at a limited capacity, as attendance was restricted to only allow students and their guests into the gym for the rivalry rematch.

"I wish we had a little bit more [fans], hopefully they'll start letting everyone come back," said head coach Chad Wilson.

The Eagles "are not a shooting team" according to their head coach Toriano McRae Jr., and struggled from the line Thursday night. Vance County won the rebounding battle early and set the tone for the rest of the game.

With Warren County in foul trouble early, the Vipers had their way down in the low blocks.

"We're used to getting the win over them," said Wilson. "I've been in this rivalry for a long time, but in my time coaching, I'm pretty used to it. This is something that happens every year."

At this point of the season, while still trying to correct little things, like sloppy turnovers, Wilson's main message to his team is to "keep fighting."

Vance County entered the game 5-6 (.455) looking to start a run late in the season. With the win over Warren making them an even .500, their postseason aspirations are still alive with about a month left. With an abundance of elite athletes on the team, Damien Jones has been a real bright spot for the Vipers.

Jones is a scrappy hustler on the court, who plays with a lot of heart. He gives shades of Patrick Beverley and TJ McConnell, but Jones isn't a bench player, he is the starting point guard and one of the top scorers on his team (12.2 PPG). His basketball experience is shown on the court through his 3-and-D capabilities. With basketball as his main sport, Jones' teammates agree he is one of the most experienced players and purest hoopers on the team.

"He's our vocal leader," said Wilson.

In a tight game in the first quarter, Jones isolated at the top of the key, hitting a between-the-legs, behind-the-back dribble combination. Running a pick and roll on a zone defense, Jones was immediately jumped by the help defender. Fending off the defender on his hip, Jones spun back to his right hand towards the basket, before finding his teammate Khaleel Harvey under the hoop for the and-one.

A couple of possessions later, Jones sped up in transition at the suggestion of coach Wilson yelling at him to push it. Jones penetrated Warren County's defense, and drained a pretty fadeaway jumpshot, hanging in the air as he elevated around the free throw line.

A little back and forth between Jones and Warren County's Kurosawa Baskerville got the crowd fired up. Trying to force the issue, Jones was called for a travel before Wilson called timeout, 15-15.

Vance County continued to win the rebound battle but the Warren County's visiting section grew louder in the tie game.

With so many offensive rebounds, the Vipers had multiple chances but were unable to convert, turning the ball over many times while the defense was rotating.

Jones drove on a backcourt pass from the Eagles to secure an interception steal and an easy layup, but came up hobbling after the play, before drawing a foul the next time down.

The Vipers press was causing problems for Warren County, but when they broke it, Javier Marin scored the and one.

In the third period, Taeshawn Alston soared to protect the rim and force a floater from Aaron Bolton wildly off the mark. Good ball movement from Vance County found Jones wide open for three at the top of the key, 37-25.

After Harvey missed a corner three, Jones was subbed out for Zahbir Goggins. In transition, Sheppard warded off his defender with a strong, lefty finish, but the Eagles responded with a Bolton three and then an and-one from Marin.

"[Bolton] is predicated on his offense," said Eagles head coach Toriano McRae Jr. "He's one of the best offensive scorers that I've coached."

A senior, Bolton's coach has implored the "soft-spoken" guard to be more of a vocal leader.

"He always leads by example, and I look forward to seeing where he goes the rest of the season," said McRae Jr.

In the waning seconds off the third quarter, Goggins bullied his way to the rim and tomato-chested a smaller Eagles defender. The Vipers entered the final period up 10 points.

After a three from Warren County, a turnover from Southerland made it a one-possession game in the fourth, as Bolton continued to get to the line. With three minutes left, Harvey was denied at the rim by Bolton in transition and hit the floor hard coming down. Wilson was livid as no foul was awarded.

"Protect the players," he yelled at the officials from the bench.

A Taeshawn Alston putback made it a four-point game, but Warren responded with a circus shot from Tony Henderson, 49-45.

Jones got to the line to seal the game, up six points with 1:32 to go. His first free throw made it 52-46, but was taken out of the game after hitting the floor hard and busting open his chin. Zahbir Goggins shot the second free throw for Vance County as the officials checked the floor for blood.

"We're going to keep on pushing," said Wilson. "We're working on trying to climb that conference ladder."

Vance County has a quick turnaround heading into a road conference game against Durham School of the Arts on Friday.

STATSDamien Jones (Jr.) — 13 PTS

Shamir Sheppard (Jr.) — 13 PTS

Khaleel Harvey (Jr.) — 11 PTS