Second-half Surge Pushes Statesmen To Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 12, 2014, 20:27
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG — Richard Bland has not faced many moments of adversity during their inaugural campaign in the National Junior College Athletic Association. Yet, in the second-game of a back-to-back over the weekend, the Statesmen found themselves staring down an opponent not intimidated by a No. 19 ranking.
Northern Virginia Community College came out of the gates strong, scoring the game's first eight points to force a Richard Bland timeout. It was a sign of things to come during a back-and-forth affair which witnessed 11 lead changes during the first 9:30 of action during the second half.
However, with the game tied and Richard Bland needing to take control of the game, Melvin Gregory raced down the court and received a full-court pass in transition from Trayvonte Brown before finishing with a left-handed lay-in.
The basket gave the Statesmen a two-point lead, 61-59, and it would be a lead Richard Bland increased over the game's final 10:30 to grab their sixth-straight victory, 101-80, Sunday afternoon at Statesmen Hall
"That's why teams play a zone on us because it obviously slows us down," Richard Bland head coach Chuck Moore said after the game. "We haven't gotten accustomed to it. Even though we spent an hour on zone offense this morning, it's still hard."
But Moore had to be pleased with his team's response after a dreadful first 20 minutes of action.
NOVA had entered the game averaging just 68.6 points per game, slowing down and dictating the pace of play due to just a seven-man rotation. It was no different against Richard Bland as Northern Virginia halted the Statesmen's offensive attack in the first half, one that averaged 93 points per contest entering the game.
The 2-3 zone, coupled with their ability to make shots on offense, frustrated the Statesmen. In fact, for much of the game, it looked as if NOVA could deal Richard Bland just their second loss of the season. However, Moore realized the momentum had shifted and called for timeout following a NOVA basket put the Statesmen down, 57-55, with just 13:09 left.
The timeout seemed to energize a Richard Bland squad still trying to find their way into game-shape after a month off. Gregory's soaring lay-in was just the start of the onslaught put on by the Statesmen as Micah Thomas scored eight consecutive points, helping to fuel a game-ending 40-to-21 run.
"I told them to keep trusting the ball is going to fall for us because we missed a lot of easy shots," Moore said. "I told them to continue taking good shots, get in good position and finish strong. We got out, we got some easy buckets and it paid off."
However, the Statesmen may not have grabbed another victory without some unexpected contributions, especially from Brown.
The 5-foot-7 guard, not usually known for his scoring prowess but more for his team-leading assist total of 4.3 per game, tallied 13 points on the night. He did so by creating space in the lane and finishing off shots in transition, helping alleviate the missing scoring of Thomas who was held scoreless for the entire first half.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
"We talk about that we need everyone to be contributing and to be unselfish," Moore explained. "Obviously, we need Micah to hit shots, but we need guys to realize that if he's not open, than don't force it."
And perhaps that's one of the positives Moore saw in Thomas' performance against NOVA.
The 5-foot-9 guard leads the team in points, averaging 19.9 per contest, yet could not create any type of separation on the offensive end. While the frustration continued to grow as each baseline cut was sniffed out by NOVA's defense, Thomas never once forced up a shot.
Instead, he tried to draw more defenders in and deftly passed the ball to either a cutting Tavon Mealy or Melvin Gregory in the lane.
"He's becoming an all-around player and it shows in the little things like that as he's looking for guys to pass to," Moore said of Thomas' 13-point effort.
However, while Mealy continued to be a force in the low blocks, scoring a game-high 26 points — with at least five of those points coming off of offensive boards — it's the improvement of Gregory which can lead to more success for the Statesmen.
Although Mealy is the team's heart and soul with his physicality in the paint, the Statesmen need to see Gregory step up his production due to the absence of Avery Ugba. Over the course of the last two games, Gregory has done so, tallying two consecutive double-doubles with a 12-point, 11-rebound effort Sunday afternoon.
"He realizes that without Avery, he's got to contribute," Moore said. "His contributions are definitely a necessity for us to continue to have success down the road."
Two games and two wins have the Statesmen extending their winning streak to six games while winning contests in different ways, showcasing their versatility and the difficulty it takes to defeat the No. 19 team in the NJCAA Division II tier.