By the program’s nature, Blue Ridge plays some high level basketball against top level opponents in some sparsely populated gyms.
Tuesday night wasn’t one of those situations.
“Since we won last time at their place we knew they were going to come back harder and they came back with a bigger fan bus than ours (at the first game),” said Blue Ridge’s Maliq Brown. “It was pretty loud in there.”
Despite that noise, with a strong fourth quarter close the Barons were able to knock off Miller 54-39 to complete a regular season sweep of the rivalry, but it didn’t come easy.
Blue Ridge led by 15 at the break, but in the third quarter, Miller got on track, with Quadir Pettaway’s six points leading the way, including going 4-for-4 at the line in the frame. Perhaps more importantly, Miller’s defense got locked in, allowing the Mavericks to cut the Blue Ridge lead to 42-35.
“We were just tougher against the hedges and more patient,” said Miller coach Jack Meriwether. “We didn’t try and make plays, we let the game come to us and I think that really helped.”
Blue Ridge’s defense returned the favor in the fourth though, holding the Mavericks to just four points in the fourth while scoring 12 to salt the game away. Sasha Glushkov and Kobe Jerome each buried a three during that stretch, while Will Lee knocked down a couple of big buckets as well.
“Our bench is deep so we always have a sub, we’ve always got the advantage on that,” Brown said.
Even with 6-foot-9 Houston Emory on the shelf, the Barons’ have a deep, versatile frontcourt and that group got going in a big way against the Mavericks. Glushkov notched a monster double double with 13 points and 13 rebounds and Brown finished with 11 points, seven boards, three assists and three steals. With Miller’s lineup constructed largely of guards and Clarence Rupert, who is electric on the wing, with Brown, Glushkov and Andy Nwaoko, the Barons have a pretty big leg up in the rivalry this year in the post.
“Going against Andy and Sasha in practice and everyone bringing their A game is really helping each other out,” Brown said.
That group has made some big leaps this season, making them not just a defensive problem for opponents but threats to score and produce regularly on offense.
“Our bigs are a testament to coach (Joseph) Toe and what they do day in and day out with our bigs,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “They learn the little things and they learn it’s not about how points they scored or rebounds they had today, but a great screen they set or a great contest they had.”
Blue Ridge’s guards were productive too despite Miller clogging the lane with a zone much of the night and the Barons’ lead trio had remarkably similar scoring lines. Jerome, Mike Gray and Lee each posting eight points. Jerome had five assists and two boards, Lee had three boards and Gray had six rebounds and four assists. Lee’s biggest contribution may have been his on-ball defense against Pettaway. He made Miller’s point guard work for everything he got, continuing a string of strong performances against highly-regarded ball handlers this season.
“When we could get them on the move we have a really good chance,” Merwiether said. “If you let them play comfortable defense, you’re fighting a losing battle.”
With Emory’s injury, Derrick Jones has had to step in more as a forward and he put together a strong stat line for Blue Ridge with six points, five rebounds and two assists.
Rupert finished with 11 points and Amir Nesbitt had seven. Blue Ridge focused on trying to clamp down on Gabe Jimerson after Jimerson lit the Barons up in the first meeting and Jimerson didn’t break through until he hit a fourth quarter three from the corner.
The Barons travel Thursday to take on Holy Cross Regional in Lynchburg while Miller faces another knockdown, dragout VIC battle against Hargrave at home the same night.