Last Updated: Mar 31st, 2014 - 14:20:42

Mealy, Thomas Lead Statesmen To Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 19, 2013, 20:08

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG Over the course of Richard Bland's first 11 games, the Statesmen have displayed above average marksmanship from beyond the 3-point line, hitting shots at a 40 percent clip.

Yet, for the first 3:05 of Thursday night's game, those shots were not falling. Mid-range jump-shots clanked off iron and points were a struggle to come by as the No. 20 team in the Division I tier of the National Collegiate Athletic Association consciously played the 3-point line tightly.

With the Statesmen trailing 7-5, Tavon Mealy knew he had to pick up his teammates, establishing himself down low. He scored one bucket on an up-and-under and on the next possession, he soared for an offensive board and put-back.

It was all the Statesmen needed to help fuel a vital 14-to-2 run, which had the exclamation point added with an Avery Ugba alley-oop slam off a feed from Mealy in transition. The Statesmen never once trailed the rest of the game, earning a tidy 71-58 victory.

"Our coach told us that we shot too many threes in the first half, so they shot them and I got those rebounds," Mealy said after his 18-point, 14-rebound effort. "The team took me lightly because I'm undersized and didn't box me out. Guess they will know to next time."

Sooner or later, teams will understand how to scout Mealy. It's getting more difficult with each passing game to dismiss the 6-foot-3 forward who continues to make plays night in and night out.

Without Mealy's offensive prowess in the first 10 minutes, Richard Bland (11-1) would have found themselves in a tight game. In fact, it was Mealy who tallied 10 of the team's first 19 points on the night and it was his offensive display which forced the Pioneers (12-4) into a 2-3 zone.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

And while the Statesmen struggled against the zone in the first half, settling for too many shots early in the clock and not creating separation, head coach Chuck Moore knew his team would figure it out. In the meantime, the Statesmen rode Mealy's 14 first half points to keep it close, before coming out firing in the second.

Moore said it was a tactical adjustment which made all the difference in solving the zone defense deployed by the Pioneers.

"It definitely slows us up and we are not used to it because we can't get out in transition and scoring as quickly," Moore said after the game. "We basically told them at halftime to start attacking those gaps. Make those guards play you and relocate on the weak side. The middle started to open up, the threes started to open, and we were golden after that."

All it took was 2:52 of the second half for the Statesmen to convert what the coaching staff told them into actual game-play, tallying an 8-0 run to start the half.

And the main reason for their success in the decisive second half is the team's leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, Micah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard dropped in seven consecutive 3-pointers, spanning the end of the first half into the second to finish with 21 points on the night. The effort was made even more special after realizing Thomas had missed his first four shots before catching fire.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

"Shooters are not going to stop shooting," Thomas said after the game. "I work hard every game as far as shooting. Before the game, I go out and put up a lot of shots. I can't let all the hard work go to waste. My dad always tells me to nail it. I focused more on the rim and stopped being short."

However, perhaps more important than Thomas' and Mealy's offensive games was the total defensive effort the Statesmen gave in the win.

While Moore continually called out defensive rotations from the sidelines, imploring his team to step up as guards penetrated the lane, even he was satisfied after the game. Richard Bland had held Spartanburg Methodist to its lowest point total of the season and over 20 points below their season average.

"The reason why we held them was because we fought," Moore explained. "Even though we were smaller than them, we still played and guarded hard and that's what made the difference."

But it was also because of the smaller contributions from other players like Brian Adkins who poured in 10 points of his own while Evan Bates stretched the floor as the Pioneers grew weary of his 3-point shooting ability.

It all added up to another Division I tier team falling to Richard Bland the Statesmen have won all games against Division I foes this season and keeps fueling the team's unbeatable mindset.

"We just talk about dominating," Moore said of his team. "We want respect. We want people to fear us and just dominate. It doesn't matter who it is, we have to have that mentality every time."

After earning another win while utilizing the inside, out combination of Mealy and Thomas, Richard Bland is riding high with confidence. Three Division I tier teams faced, three wins. Teams within Division II's tier are on notice.

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