Statesmen Limp Toward Region X Tournament
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 3, 2014, 13:18
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG — For much of the season, Richard Bland had faced little adversity in their first campaign since being disbanded in 1994. However, over the course of the last few weeks of the season, the tone of the season has dramatically changed.
The Statesmen impressed many skeptics early in their season with impressive play from under-recruited players and an understanding of team basketball. It helped fuel the National Junior Athletic Association's newcomers to a nine-game winning streak to start the year before a one-point set-back to Pitt Community College.
Yet, the Statesmen would respond to the loss by rattling off 17 consecutive wins as they saw their stock rise within the Region X tier and nationally, soaring to the No. 1 spot in the polls during the unprecedented run. However, the high of winning has slowed to a halt as Richard Bland has dropped two of three games to end the season prior to entering the Region X Tournament this weekend.
While the losses raise enough of a red-flag on their own, Richard Bland's play over the last few weeks brings with it sirens as it has not quite reached the level of their early season mastery. And it all came to a crashing thud against Wake Technical Community College in a game the Statesmen were never truly competitive in.
The Eagles would attempt 40 free throws over the course of the game and withstood small bursts of energy from Richard Bland throughout a thorough 69-55 win over the No. 1 team.
"We weren't mentally ready," Richard Bland head coach Chuck Moore said after the disappointing loss. "We were flat. We weren't executing. I mean our offense, we were just going around with no purpose. We weren't guarding guys. It was all mental today."
Unfortunately for Richard Bland, after a brief respite in a rout over Tidewater Community College, the Statesmen dropped their final game of the season to No. 8 Louisburg College. The game was also a battle for the regular season Region X title as both teams entered with identical 15-2 records, but Richard Bland was not up to the task in a 23-point disappointing showing.
And that is exactly what the Statesmen should be concerned with as they regather themselves for the conference tournament where they will be the No. 2 seed.
The good news for Richard Bland is they already have the blueprint for success based on their play earlier this season. The Statesmen made a name for themselves with an attacking style of basketball which stressed getting out in transition and sharing of the basketball.
However, as the success continued to be placed upon their shoulders, more one-on-one play became the norm. Instead of continuing to find open teammates, each player tried to win the game on their own which resulted in wins, but also the two disappointing losses to end the season.
Although when or if Richard Bland reverts back to form, they have proven to be a tough team to defeat as was the case in a dominating win over Tidewater Community College.
"We played the way we really focused on," Moore said after that game. "We wanted to get out in transition. We wanted to guard and we definitely did all of that in the first half ... but overall we played unselfishly and were able to get the ball in the post."
And if the Statesmen want to experience more success, they should think back to their performance against the Storm.
Richard Bland received a season-high effort from Evan Bates who dropped in 23 points, 18 points from Micah Thomas and 21 points from Avery Ugba. It was the type of balanced scoring effort which Moore had not seen from his team in weeks.
But in the effort, he also saw a glimpse of a team which can get hot again during the conference tournament at just the right time. After all, this is a team which has spoke all season of higher aspirations than just receiving national attention.
"We want to win a national championship," Thomas said earlier this season. "Just because we are a first-year team doesn't mean we can't surprise."
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
In order for that to happen, an inside-out game is a must for a team which relies a bit too much on offensive productivity to jump-start a good defensive effort. One Thomas 3-pointer or Tavon Mealy spin-move for a basket is all Richard Bland needs to once again become a confident team.
If that is to happen, then the Region X Tournament may once again feature a rematch between Richard Bland and Louisburg for the title game.
And it would be hard to bet against a Statesmen squad which may be one of the most balanced teams in the country with a full complement of post presences in Avery Ugba, Melvin Gregory and Mealy along with outside threats in Bates, Thomas and Marquis Powell.
No one can also forget the defensive impact Trayvonte Brown can have the Statesmen as well with an ability to create turnovers which lead directly to points.
"We're not going to panic for one loss," Moore said after his team's win over Tidewater in the game following the loss to Wake Tech. "We just played our kind of basketball."
Moore should say exactly the same thing to a team he knows has the ability to win when it matters most. After all, winning in March is the indicator of the truly great teams and programs.