Last year. Thirty-seven points. A loss in the 2017 state final.
“That’s all that we were thinking about,” said Miller’s Deshaun Wade.
“It stuck with us,” said Miller coach Danny Manuel.
It stuck with Miller’s boys basketball team in part because Manuel never let it go even after three wins over Blue Ridge in the regular season, writing the date and time on the board in the locker room ahead of the game. Plus, the similarities to Miller’s 37-point loss to the Barons in last year’s state title game were striking. Same venue. Same trophy up for grabs.
“Same team, same place,” said the Mavericks Dae Dae Heard. “There was a lot on the line.”
With all that on the line, Miller exorcised its demons, winning 82-64 over archrival Blue Ridge to secure the Mavericks’ first state title since 2009.
“We came in with the mindset that we had to play hard, play our game and that’s what we did,” said Miller’s Jaylin Reed.
Wade saved perhaps his finest game as a Maverick for last, pouring in 29 points for Miller, a personal high during his two-year stretch at the school. He and Reed, Miller’s top two seniors, were tremendous, with Reed scoring 13 points and pulling down seven boards including a couple of early 3-pointers to get things rolling for the Mavericks as they built a 16-12 first quarter lead and a 34-26 advantage by halftime.
In the third quarter though, the Mavericks started really stretching out the lead, with Aundre Hyatt knocking down a big 3-pointer as part of his strong effort that including 18 points and nine rebounds. By the end of the third, Miller was up 55-40.
Miller never got rattled really, even as Blue Ridge’s Darius McGhee kept trying to will the Barons back into the game with 30 points of his own. The Barons couldn’t come up with a string of stops though against a clearly determined Miller team that wanted no part of a defeat at Virginia State University again.
“The difference this year was that we felt the pain of last year,” Manuel said. “Knowing what it feels like to be embarrassed will fuel your fire.”
It was Miller celebrating this time, with the entire core from last year’s team, with help from new addition Tariq Balogun underneath. Balogun had a pair of first half dunks that helped energize the Mavericks. Heard scored 12 points and snatched seven rebounds.
Blue Ridge’s loss ended an incredible run for the Barons who underwent an identity change this season with the graduation of Josh Colon and Aamir Simms from last year’s team and became a force this year behind McGhee, Myles Jones and Sardaar Calhoun. Calhoun had 13 points and Jones had 10 while McGhee snagged five rebounds to go with his 30 points. McGhee, headed for Liberty next year, has enjoyed an incredibly prolific career with more than 3,000 career points including 2,000 over the last two years at Blue Ridge.
“At Blue Ridge I grew the most as a person on and off the court,” McGhee said. “Like I told the guys (in a postgame speech in the locker room) this was my first year actually being the leader. That was a huge growing experience. Of course I’m a little bummed that we didn’t win but I’m just proud of the way the guys grew and we grew as a unit.”
The win also ended the careers of Wade, Reed, Brent Rice and Teemu Tumanoff, all players who have contributed in critical capacities over the last few years as Manuel molded the program in his own image. Wade limped his way to the finish, nursing a leg injury that bothered him in the late stages of the game, but there was no way he was coming out, no way he wasn’t going to finish.
“It meant everything to me, I’ve been thinking about winning a state championship since I was in middle school,” Wade said. “I knew it was my turn, I knew I had to win.”