By Jay Jenkins / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Some coaches would have been worried after shooting just 33 percent from the field in the first half of a playoff game.
Making matters worse, anxiety could set in after the top post player collected two quick fouls, the lead was in single digits and your team was shooting 45.2 percent from the free throw line.
Blue Ridge coach Bill Ramsey did not panic. Obviously, his players shared the sentiment.
Despite a sluggish opening half, the top-seeded Barons held Liberty Christian to just four second-half points and cruised to a 52-20 victory at home in the semifinal round of the VIC Tournament. Blue Ridge advances to face Miller in the title game of the tourney on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at VES in Lynchburg.
“I told the guys at halftime that a six-point lead [against LCA] was like a double-digit lead with their style. It was like a 12-point lead,” Ramsey said of a 22-16 lead at the break. “I told them if we could just play possession by possession and get it to double figures then they will have to change their game plan and they would have to start taking quicker shots.
“I didn’t think they would make them as long as we were guarding them.”
In the third quarter, LCA made one of its three field goal attempts, the last of which was a heave at the buzzer. The intense Blue Ridge defense did not allow a single field goal in the fourth quarter, holding the Bulldogs scoreless over the final 10 minutes.
The Barons forced nine turnovers in third quarter and six more in the final eight-minute session as LCA burned all of its timeouts.
“When you play those guys they want to keep the score low so they are going to hold it,” Ramsey said of LCA’s motion offense that often used 60 seconds off the clock during possessions in the first half. “They are going to move the ball, so you have to play it possession at a time.
“You are not going to just come out and jump them unless they really make some bad mistakes.”
LCA limited miscues early and received a break with 3:50 left in the first quarter when Blue Ridge center Paris Maragkos drew his second foul of the game after going over the back on an errant shot from teammate Darryl Smith.
Just 14 seconds later, LCA took an 8-7 lead on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Clinton Zach.
Corbyn Jackson, who replaced Maragkos, took advantage of the early playing time by blocking three shots the remainder of the opening quarter. Blue Ridge managed to claim a 12-10 advantage entering the second quarter.
The Bulldogs took the lead on back-to-back baskets, but the Barons closed the first half out on a 10-2 run to create the separation that Ramsey desired.
“We tried pressing early and I think it may have worn them down later,” Ramsey said, “but it didn’t work too much in the first quarter to press them full. It did make them make some turnovers later.”
Blue Ridge found its shooting touch out of the halftime break, nailing six of its first nine shots from the field to go up 35-18. Things unraveled for LCA in a hurry from that point forward as six Barons scored in the third quarter.
Maragkos, one of the four players honored for Senior Day festivities, led the attack in the final quarter scoring six of his game-high 14 points.
Daniel Ginsberg, another senior, was critical to the defensive effort as the head of the full-court press that was employed by the Barons and finished with 10 points.
“It was a good effort all around,” Ginsberg said. “We knew we had to play in the passing lanes because they run five-out and the big man (Matt Moats) pops out at the foul line. So we just tried to overplay and the pressure got to them.
“They made a couple of turnovers and we got buckets on the other end. Once we got the big lead they couldn’t stall as much and we got them out of their offense a little bit. We did a good job on defense tonight.”
When the game ended, Ramsey was unsure which foe his team would face in the title game. Perhaps it is only fitting that the Barons draw Miller for the third contest between the rivals this season.
Blue Ridge survived a scare last week at Miller, winning 64-63, as it missed 17 of 30 free throws.
“I’ve never won a game when you shoot 13 for 30,” said Ramsey, reflecting on the win against Miller that gave him 300 for his career. “I can’t believe we won that game. That shows you how dominant we were in that game at their court.”
That dominance will get tested again down at Virginia Episcopal in Lynchburg Saturday night.