Thomas Jefferson High School worked hard to shut down T.C. Williams’ red-hot T.J. Huggins during the first round of regionals Monday, but the strategy just gave teammate Jordan Byrd a chance to shine.
The shooting guard rallied the Titans back from a first quarter deficit against the 8-17 Colonials with a quick combination of two field goals and a three-point laser. Though not a career high night for Byrd, the 6-foot-1 senior put away 19 points to match an early season performance against Wakefield.
Huggins, by contrast, had to settle for 13 against a team determined to take him out of the game.
“We have no superstars on this team,” Byrd said. “I have a good night, then T.J. has a good night. We just make sure we knock down the shots.”
Despite coming in heavily favored against a Jefferson team, which went just 3-11 in conference action, T.C. got off to a characteristically slow start. But this time it was part of the game plan, Byrd said.
“They sat in a 2-3 zone,” he said. “We had to be patient and get the shots we wanted.”
Those shots didn’t come easy, senior point guard Daquan Kerman said, admitting the Titans could have come out stronger against the Liberty District team from Fairfax.
“We have to get into the game,” he said. “[We] always just gotta pick it up. I tell everybody to pick it up.”
Reignited by Byrd’s shooting, the Titans went on a second quarter run to take a 31-20 lead heading into the halftime. With their patience on offense paying off, T.C. got aggressive on defense.
They held the Colonials to just four points, compared to T.C.’s 14, in the third quarter. Though the Jefferson squad fought back in the fourth quarter, netting 16 points in the final minutes, the distance between them was too great. The Titans left the court celebrating a triumphant return to the regional tournament, with a 56-40 victory.
Coming in to the game, the Titans were, for the second consecutive year, Patriot District champions — a potential advantage for the squad. Following a rocky regular season, T.C. has gone undefeated in the last seven games, including the postseason tournaments.
It’s well needed boost, coach Julian King said.
“I don’t think [winning the district title] is so much setting a tone, but it’s a confidence boost for us,” he said. “To come out as district champions is a big confidence builder.”
With the first leg of the regional tournament behind them, the Titans set their sights on No. 3 Westfield. The Bulldogs went undefeated in the Concorde District and enjoy a 21-4 record after beating Wakefield Monday. The two semifinalist teams square off Wednesday night, after the Times’ deadline.
If fortune favors the Titans again, they’ll head to Robinson Saturday for the regional championship game against either McLean or Centreville.
“This means a lot, to be over this one hump,” Kerman said, making it clear the team knows exactly what they want out of this season: “We’re trying to win another regional championship.