Own the Paint: Gray’s scoring, interior defense push Blue Ridge into title game

The formula has become clear.


Blue Ridge boys basketball plays suffocating defense, gets the bulk of its scoring from Michael Gray and a dash of points from nearly everyone else on the roster. Then they let their depth do the rest.


Blue Ridge employed what’s become the template for a number of their late season wins in Friday’s 63-47 victory over Middleburg Academy in the VISAA Division II semifinals. The victory puts the top-seeded Barons back in the state title game for the third straight year against VIC rival Miller School.


“I told the guys at halftime that if we have a lead at halftime I feel good about how we’ll play in the second half because our depth starts to help and it wears the other team down,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “Sure enough, Middleburg missed a couple of shots they normally would hit.”


Gray scored 21 points to lead the way offensively for the Barons, including three huge 3-pointers in the second quarter. He also went 8-for-10 at the line in the win. Savion Helm chipped in 11 points too, but the offense didn’t come fast and furious for the Barons by any means as they trailed 15-14 at the end of the first quarter.


“We wanted to come out strong and play well from the beginning but it took awhile for us to see where the holes were in their zone,” Lemcke said.


The Barons had to contain Middleburg’s Joel Kabimba, throwing a heavy dose of Jaden Frazier and Andy Nwoako at the big man. Frazier and Nwoako are incredible interior defenders, and helped the Barons turn things around with their play inside. Nwoako had eight boards while Frazier grabbed another seven and they combined to hold Kabimba to just 11 points by doing the little things right.


“Jaden took a charge, Andy took a charge, Jaden caused a travel in the interior,” Lemcke said. “When they came to our place (in the regular season) they really handled us on the glass. We said if we can match their toughness on the glass we’ll have a good chance and I thought (Andy and Jaden) especially did a great job of owning the paint and that ended up being the difference for us.”


The defense was particularly locked in down the stretch. Middleburg hit 40 points with about four minutes to play and just got stuck there while the Barons pulled away. The Barons finished the game on a 14-7 run, making Middleburg work for every point.


Chris Rogers finished with eight points and three assists for the Barons while William Lee had nine points. Gray and Helm each added three assists to their double-digit scoring outputs.  


Ben Li led Middleburg with 18 points.


The Barons face Miller in the state title game Saturday at 2 p.m.