The narrative is starting to become a little more clear. Miller put itself in the driver’s seat of the VIC — and in all likelihood, the VISAA Division 2 playoff bracket — with a win over Blue Ridge a few weeks ago. But a loss Hargrave Military academy just under two weeks ago was a humble reminder that nothing is written in stone. With an avenging win over the Tigers on Thursday, the Mavericks second meeting with the Barons, this one the road set the front running table up once again on Saturday with the second of a possible four meetings between last year’s state finalists.
To say that the first half between the two familiar rivals was exceptional is putting it mildly. Miller and Blue Ridge gave those in attendance a real show. The Mavericks were able to pull away in the fourth quarter with Aundre Hyatt, Deshaun Wade and Dae Dae Heard all coming up big down the stretch. And so with a 70-61 win, the Mavericks are most certainly the team to beat right now both in the VIC and in their VIS tournament brackets.
“I kind of lit into them at halftime — I’m getting good at that,” said Miller coach Danny Manuel. “Blue Ridge is a scrappy really well coached team so you know you’re coming in here and they’re not going to roll over on you. They’re going to play hard. So for us it came down to rebounding, taking away all the second chance points that they got in the first half. But in the second we did a good job on defense, a better job rebounding.”
There were 16 lead changes between these two in the first half alone. The Mavericks took a 12-6 lead in the first quarter only to see the Barons answer with a 9-2 run to claim a 15-14 advantage going into the second.
“We’ve got a good group that just buys in and doesn’t fight coaching,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “They’re progressing and just continue to fight and work hard.”
The largest lead in the second was for Blue Ridge when Druhv Meholtra put the Barons up 23-19. But a big quarter from Hyatt allowed Miller to close in and from there it was tit-for-tat with leads being exchanged with each basket. Hyatt put the Mavericks up 32-31 going into the break and had plenty left in the tank for the second half.
“It was senior night for them so we knew they’d be hyped so it came down to us just keep playing hard and showing that that first win wasn’t a fluke,” Hyatt said. “We came out in the second with the mindset to win. The first half was fast paced. Coming into the second it we wanted to set the tone.”
Miller started out the second half with Tariq Balogun picking up back-to-back buckets in the paint to make it 36-31. A 6-0 run from Myles Jones and Jaden Frazier gave Blue Ridge a 37-36 advantage just under midway though the third. But when Hyatt converted underneath for the Mavericks it sparked a 7-0 run to give the visitors a 43-37 advantage and one that would not be surrendered.
With the Mavericks defense all over Darius McGhee and Sadaar Calhoun, the Barons got pair of 3-pointers from Chris Rogers allowed Blue Ridge to get within three of the lead twice in the third.
“Chris is a worker and he knew coming into the season that shooting the ball well could be the equalizer for him,” Lemcke said. “He’s quick with the ball and just a pest on defense but at his size, if you can hit those open shots, it makes a huge difference. He’s put in the time working on that.”
Teemu Tumanoff hit a jumper at the buzzer to make it 49-44 going into the fourth for Miller. The first half of the fourth belonged to Hyatt as he cleaned up down low. A Jaylen Reid jumper gave the Mavericks a 57-47 advantage, the first double digit lead of the game midway through the fourth. Blue Ridge responded behind Jones and McGhee. A three from Calhoun made it a 4-point game with just under three minutes to play.
But then Wade, Hyatt and Heard closed out the game by attacking the basket with not a single whistle coming in the final minute of play with lots of hustle from the latter.
“Man, Dae Dae is a swiss army knife,” Manuel said. “He’s 6-foot-5 and can do so many things and he’s also a bully. He can punch with the big dudes down low and play on perimeter. He had a big game and we were waiting on this from him.”
On the night, Hyatt led all scorers with his 26 points. Heard finished with 17 with nine of them coming in the fourth. Wade had 12 points to put three Mavericks in double figures.
For Blue Ridge, Calhoun had a team best 18 points with 12 of those coming in the first half. McGhee finished with 12 points. Rogers had 11 and all of them in second half. Jones had 10 points while Frazier had 9. Those five combined for all but three of of Blue Ridge’s points.
The Mavericks (20-4) hits to the road to face Virginia Episcopal while Blue Ridge (17-7) travels to face Hargrave on Tuesday.