The fourth-seeded Valley Cubs were already ahead 29 and had all but locked up the victory and secured a spot in the quarterfinals.
Instead, Alexandria coach Jason Johnson implored his team not to take the half off but instead use the sizeable lead as an opportunity to sharpen their skills.
“I talked to them at halftime about improving individually,” Johnson said. “I wanted each player, individually, to really try to get better.”
The Valley Cubs outscored the No. 13 Falcons 37-31 in the second half while backing up the full-court man-to-man defense that built them a 46-17 margin after two quarters of play to a quarter-court set in the fourth quarter.
“I just wanted them to continue to play the game the right way,” Johnson said. “I think they did a pretty good job of continuing to play hard and not pick up any bad habits.”
Senior big man Landon Straub heard Johnson’s challenge loud and clear and responded appropriately.
“All I was thinking about was taking the ball in the post, making a strong move and getting two points or a foul,” Straub said.
The 6-foot-3 senior finished with eight points, all earned in the paint. He and his low-post partner junior Blake Jones made their mark in the game’s final 16 minutes of play. Jones scored all of his 14 points in the second half.
Alexandria (8-6) will face No. 5 Weaver Thursday at 5:30 p.m. for a shot in Friday’s night’s semifinals.
The Bearcats (12-7) defeated No. 12 Sacred Heart 60-44 Monday in their opening round game.
Donoho stuck around for a little while in the first quarter against the Valley Cubs sweltering defense keyed by sophomore Jarline Lee. The Falcons trailed 4-3 two minutes in the game. They were behind only five with about three minutes left in the opening quarter before Alexandria closed out the quarter on a 14-2 run.
“We watched a couple tapes on them. So, we had a game plan,” Donoho coach Eric Link said. “At the beginning of the game, we were with them. “Then we got away from our game plan. We didn’t stick to the fundamentals on defense or offense and we stopped listening.”
Alexandria put forth a balanced scoring effort with three players, also including Tevin Riggins and Tyler Burr who scored eight points. Kyle Turner had nine points as did Lee, who penetrated the lane beautifully all game long had nine points.
“He brings us quickness out there,” Johnson said of Lee. “He has a lot of energy and he definitely can get in the lane on offense. We’re trying to get him to be a lock down defender of the other team’s point guard.”
Donoho gave its faithful something to look forward to in the fourth quarter when they went on a 12-0 sparked by three 3-pointers from senior guard Tyler Sherer. Sherer led all scorers with 15 all on shots from long range. Will Montgomery scored 13 for Donoho, including three triples. Matthew Overton scored nine, all coming on 3s.
“We’re just going to go back the fundamentals on offense, the fundamentals on defense and listening,” Link said.
The Alexandria-Weaver game will pit two teams that showed a propensity to pressure the ball full court in their first-round games against each other. The matchup between Lee, a sophomore, and speedy Weaver freshman Chris English could also be interesting.
“We’re going to have our hands full Thursday,” Johnson said. “Weaver is quick and aggressive. We’re going to have to play above our heads to have a chance to stop them from dribbling by us.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.