RICHMOND — When Madison Central lost senior center Sam Jones (and his double-double talent) to a concussion in the first game of the season, Allen Feldhaus Jr.'s outlook for his Indians was anything but rosy.
But one week into 2015, Madison Central sports an 11-4 record after scrapping its way past Paul Laurence Dunbar 66-63 Tuesday night.
"If you'd told me we'd be without Sam for those 15 games, I would've guessed 4-11 would've been more like it," Feldhaus said. "But we told them, 'You gotta believe in our system, you gotta believe in our program'.
"I think they do believe in what we're trying to do."
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John Williams is one of those keeping the faith. The 6-foot-1 junior had 21 points and eight rebounds against visiting Dunbar.
"That's the best game he's played for us in his career," Feldhaus said. "He's our most athletic player, and I like the way he's taking it to the rack, and not afraid of taking the tough defensive challenge."
Williams' three-point play gave Madison Central a 64-61 lead with 1:14 left, and that proved to be the difference.
"Just trying to step up for my team," he said.
Cameron Thomas, a 6-3 senior point guard, had 14 points, five assists and four steals. He had a couple clutch drives and dishes (to Jacob Taylor) in the fourth quarter.
"The biggest difference with Cameron between this year and last is that he's sharing the basketball so much better," Feldhaus said.
Taylor, a 6-0 junior who has taken Jones' place on the blocks, had 11 points and seven rebounds.
"For a guy who'd never played organized basketball before, he's doing a good job in the middle," Feldhaus said.
Kirkland Humphrey, a 5-10 junior, contributed 10 points and five assists to the cause.
"I really like the way this team plays with a lot of energy," Feldhaus said.
Dunbar matched Madison Central's energy and almost pulled out the road victory.
The Bulldogs are happy to see the new year arrive and put December behind them.
They started the season with eight consecutive losses, due in part to having several key players suspended for disciplinary reason. Injuries to big men Jeremy Ward and Jacob Herrin compounded the Bulldogs' problems.
But as Dunbar showed Tuesday night, it has the talent and athleticism to be a factor in the 11th Region.
Darius Williams, a 6-4 junior, had 29 points, seven rebounds and four assists against Madison Central.
He had 27 points after three quarters before Feldhaus threw a box-and-one, and triangle-and-two at him (and Taveion Hollingsworth).
Hollingsworth, a 6-2 sophomore, had 14 points. He and Williams combined to hit six of nine three-pointers.
Jordan Lewis, a 6-0 junior point guard, had eight points, and five assists.
Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk said he was encouraged by what he saw. "We finally had a semblance of a lineup, and everybody kind of got back into their roles. And I thought we played harder."
Dunbar was down 66-63 with :10 and had the ball. It wanted to get a three-point shot for Williams, Hollingsworth or P.J. Corio. But it didn't work out that way.
"From the moment the ball was thrown in bounds, people went the wrong way. That's high school basketball," Chalk said with a chuckle.
"You don't expect them to be perfect."
Madison Central 66, Paul Dunbar 63
PAUL DUNBAR (3-10) — Williams 29, Hollingsworth 14, Lewis 8, Corio 2, Penny 2, Kelley 1, Clark 1, Herrin 4, Blair 2.
MADISON CENTRAL (11-4) — Williams 21, Taylor 12, Thomas 14, Miller 6, Humphrey 10, Brockman 3.
Paul Dunbar 17 17 18 11—63
Madison Central 18 20 11 17—66