Blue Ridge’s Sardaar Calhoun had had the hot hand much of the night, and he hit a big 3-pointer to close the gap against Miller in the fourth quarter for the Barons with under a minute to play.
So when he got a look as time expired off an inbounds play with 6.2 seconds left with Miller closing out hard, Blue Ridge had what they wanted.
“He had a good look at the end and they obviously closed out hard,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “He’ll knock that down next time. That’ll just help us to grow and refocus for this week.”
Calhoun’s shot didn’t fall and Miller escaped with a 62-60 win, the VIC title and the Mavericks’ third win against the Barons this year. The Mavericks’ got 20 big points from Aundre Hyatt in the win including a 4-for-4 performance at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Tariq Balogun chipped in 14 and Deshaun Wade had 13.
“The team that shows up to play Blue Ridge is not the team that shows up for the other games,” said Miller coach Danny Manuel. “You don’t have to say anything to them, you can hear it means a lot to them.”
Both teams will advance to the VISAA D2 state tournament and appear set to be the No. 1 (Miller) and No. 2 (Blue Ridge) seeds in that field and could see each other one more time.
It’s telling that Manuel and Lemcke had a similar take on the first half between the two teams. These squads have now played each other eight times in the last two years with many of the same key players and there’s an overwhelming sense of familiarity. The game was tied at 33-33 at the break, thanks in large part to the Barons’ shot-making.
“In the first half Sardaar and Darius (McGhee) were hitting 19-foot pull-ups with a hand in their face — a 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 hand in their face,” Manuel said. “Just naturally those percentages are going to come down.”
Lemcke saw essentially the same thing, especially after his squad built a 32-23 lead and then watched Miller (25-4) rip off a 10-1 run to end the half and gain some momentum.
“We were making shots but we were relying on making shots, I don’t think our defense was really kicking in and doing what it was supposed to be doing,” Lemcke said.
Despite that though, the Barons (19-9) hung in there and played enough defense to get a chance to win it in the end with the ball in their hands. That’s an improvement after two 9-point losses at the hands of the Mavericks in the regular season. Miller, on the other hand, was just thrilled to survive and snag their first conference title since 2010.
“I thought we did a great job defensively in that third quarter and then there at the end, we just got lucky,” Manuel said. “Sardaar makes that shot, we’re going home miserable and they’re screaming and having a party.”
Calhoun finished with 18 for Blue Ridge while McGhee had 12 and Myles Jones notched 15.