Strong second half keys 80-70 win over Wood for Millbrook boys

Posted: February 2, 2013

Special to The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Before James Woods’ boys’ basketball game with Millbrook, Colonels coach Al Smith teased Pioneers coach Scott Mankins about his team’s poor free-throw shooting in their last game. Smith also made a prophecy that, sadly for the Colonels, proved to be all too accurate.

“I saw Millbrook play Tuesday against Sherando and they didn’t make hardly any free throws,” Smith said. “I was talking to Scott before the game and he thought that we would probably foul them a lot. I told him that tonight they’d probably make them all.”

They may not have hit every single one of them, but after hitting just 10 of 19 free-throw attempts over the first 31 minutes of play, Millbrook, with a packed Colonels gym yelling at the top of their lungs, nailed 9 of 12 from the line over the last minute of play to seal a hard-fought 80-70 victory over Wood.

“We made them tonight when they counted,” Mankins said. “Any district win is big, and a district win on the road like this one is huge. We’ve got to keep this momentum though. We’ve got one more game before the tournament. If we can get that one, I like where we are heading into the tournament.”

The 10-point Pioneer win was anything but easy in a game that featured tenacious defense by both teams.

After taking a 5-0 lead after two minutes of play, Millbrook watched helplessly as Wood’s offense exploded for a 9-2 run that gave the Colonels the lead at 9-7 with five minutes still to play in the first quarter. Ryland Williams was Wood’s primary weapon, hitting four of his seven first-quarter points during the run.

Williams, however, wasn’t the only one to rain 3’s on the Pioneers. Nick Foura, Michael Carter, and Brandon Ratlief also scored from beyond the arc during the quarter.

While Wood’s offense was hitting on all cylinders, its defense forced seven Millbrook turnovers and held Pioneer leading-scorer Rze Culbreath to just three points. Both played a major role in Wood’s surprising 18-14 lead heading into the second quarter.

The Colonels lost their hot hand at the beginning of the second quarter and the Pioneers immediately seized the opportunity. When Wood missed its first three shots from the field to begin the period it allowed Millbrook to go on a 6-0 run to begin the quarter and take the lead 20-18. From that point until the end of the game the battle was on and neither team was able to pull away.

Wood fought hard over the next six minutes and, thanks to another seven turnovers by Millbrook, held a 35-34 lead at halftime.

The first half moved at a blistering pace and that played to Wood’s strengths at both ends of the court. At halftime it was obvious that Millbrook needed to make some changes or they faced crushing defeat at the hands of the Colonels.

“We did make a defensive change, but I thought that the key was that we didn’t turn the ball over as much in the second half,” Mankins said. “We were really rushing things in the first half and trying to play at their pace.”

The Pioneers returned for the second half with a new plan, and it proved to be the difference in the game. Switching to a zone defense, Millbrook concentrated on denying Wood any easy looks at the basket from beyond the 3-point line. They also refused to be suckered into playing at the Colonels pace, and that dramatically reduced the Pioneers turnovers.

Those changes paid off immediately for Millbrook, which ripped off an 11-0 run to begin the second half. Cody Brooks and Culbreath were the Pioneers’ primary offensive weapons during the run, combining for nine points over the first two minutes of the third quarter. But cutting their turnovers in half during the quarter was just as important, and the Pioneers entered the final quarter with what looked like a comfortable 56-48 lead.

Wood, however, wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and battled furiously over the next seven minutes to get back into the game. With 1:24 left a 3-pointer by Butler narrowed Millbrook’s lead to 72-69. But with the game on the line the Pioneers hit their free throws when the Colonels were forced to foul to get the ball.

Culbreath led all scorers with 26 points, but T. J. Bruce’s scoring played a huge role in the Pioneer win. The Millbrook senior scored nine of his 16 points in the final quarter, including a perfect 3 for 3 from the line. Eddie Trexler also scored in double figures for the Pioneers with 11 points.

“This was a very big win,” Bruce said. “I’m just happy that we all came together as a team at the end of the game and pulled this one out. It was frustrating in the first half to miss all of those free throws. We just needed to clear our minds and concentrate on making those shots.”

Williams led the Colonels with 20 points, including a pair of 3’s. Carter had 11 points for Wood.

“I told our guys at the end of the game that I thought that we had enough enthusiasm and energy out there to win this basketball game,” Smith said. “We just need to take care of some little things. We were prepared for everything Millbrook threw at us. We just had a few mental lapses and didn’t execute well at the beginning of the third quarter.”