By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
With a “sample size” of 26 games, Miller head coach Danny Manuel knows full well that his team is capable of scoring.
Scoring close to 70 points per game and having three players that average double figures, Manuel’s Mavericks have had little trouble offensively this season.
That is until Miller welcomed in Hargrave Military Academy for Thursday night’s VIC semifinal clash in an 82-78 win for the state’s top-ranked Mavericks that vaults them into the VIC title game.
Looking to avenge one of their four losses of the season, Miller could not find its groove offensively for the much of the first quarter against the Tigers. In fact, the Mavericks did not tally their first field goal until the 1:30 mark of the opening frame.
After enduring two separate 11-point deficits and falling behind by seven at halftime, Manuel implored his team to spread the ball around on offense, knowing full well that the rest would fall into place afterwards.
“We came in at halftime and it was like everyone was trying to do their own thing,” Manuel said of his team’s play in the first 16 minutes. “As simple as it sounds we started just throwing to the open guy. If I drive and there’s two guys on me, pass it to the dude that’s not being guarded.”
From the moment the the second half whistle sounded, it became crystal clear that the Mavericks got Manuel’s message.
Miller, behind a quartet of double digit scorers, exploded for 58 points in the second half, and withstood a late Hargrave rally to earn the four-point win.
The Mavericks (23-4) will battle Blue Ridge for the VIC Championship on Saturday.
After falling behind for the first time at 18-16, the Tigers outscored Miller 15-6 in the final 3:30 of the opening half, to grab a seven-point lead at intermission.
From there, it was pedal to the metal for the high-flying Mavericks.
Senior Jaylin Reed, who finished with 12 points, opened the second half with a triple from the left-hand corner to jump start an emphatic 12-0 Miller run.
After managing just 24 points in the first half, MSA racked up 40 over the next quarter and a half. With an excellent inside-out combo on nearly every offensive possession, the Mavericks were incredibly efficient with the ball, and didn’t trail again after seizing the lead with 5:06 left in the third quarter.
“We started making shots and that snowballs, and then we started playing harder on defense, and kind of takes off,” Manuel said. “I was proud of the guys for being resilient… The crowd was anxious and everyone was anxious. I told the guys to stay together, stay the course, and play how we know how to play.”
Miller grabbed the lead for good thanks to a layup, plus a foul, from junior Dae Dae Heard. Heard notched 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and was virtually untouchable inside the lane.
The Mavericks did not fall behind again in the final 13 minutes, but Hargrave never truly went away until late in the fourth quarter. The Tigers buried nine three-pointers in the second half, and constantly kept the pressure on Miller to keep scoring.
Thankfully for Manuel and company, Heard frequently provided an answer for his team, and kept MSA firmly in the driver’s seat, despite playing with an injured shoulder.
“That’s just [Heard’s] DNA — That’s who he is. When it gets tough, Dae Dae is going to tighten his belt,” Manuel said. “He was really frustrated with himself at halftime, because he expects a lot of himself, but he had a really good second half and I was proud of him.”
Sophomore Jordon Brown provided a solid with one-two punch with Heard, finishing with 21 big points. A spinning layup by Brown gave Miller its first lead of the game in the second quarter, and the explosive guard maintained the intensity throughout the contest.
Aundre Hyatt added 14 points for the Mavericks.
After juggling three and five-point leads at a time for much of the second half, Miller finally built what appeared to be an insurmountable 12-point advantage late in the fourth quarter.
However, several untimely turnovers and some clutch threes by the Tigers made the closing minutes much more dramatic than they should have been. Hargrave pulled to within four following an 8-0 run that took less than one minute of basketball time, before the Mavericks slammed the door on the visitors at the free throw line.
Up next for Miller is a third tilt with rival Blue Ridge with the VIC title on the line. With a pair of nine points wins against the Barons already this year, Manuel knows that Blue Ridge will be more than ready for round three.
“I don’t want to say ‘expected’, but it’s kind of like if I’m at Blue Ridge and I want to win, I gotta go through Miller School, and if I’m at Miller and I want to win, I gotta go through Blue Ridge, and I think both programs know that,” Manuel said.