By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- The fourth-seeded Strasburg Rams continued their late season uptick, recovering from a two-point halftime deficit with a red-hot 17-2 third quarter to best fifth-seeded Manassas Park 55-34 in the Bull Run District boys basketball tournament play-in game on Wednesday.
Like many area athletic squads, the Rams appeared to have accumulated a lot of rust in the long hiatus since their last game, a 55-47 win against the Cougars on Feb. 4 which broke a seven-game losing streak to end their regular season.
The lag seemed to create some hesitancy in the Rams' offensive execution, and a lack of tenacity on defense.
Three seniors led the way for Strasburg (6-12, 2-6 Bull Run) as Derek Buckley scored a game-high 14 points, followed by Bub McKelvey with 13 and Brian Huttner with 10.
Huttner notched seven of his 10 tallies in the Rams' breakout third quarter, including two layups aided by assists from McKelvey (four for the game).
"We came into halftime and coach [Millson] French gave us a little motivation speech and it helped us out a lot," McKelvey said.
As if French applied rust remover and oil to his team at the break, the Rams used crisp passing and drives into the paint to make three layups in the third-quarter scoring blitz, while playing tenacious defense to limit the Cougars to a single field goal, provided by sophomore Anthony Morgan.
Buckley tallied six points in the turnaround frame, including the second of his three 3-pointers to close out the period.
"Coach [French] gave us a great halftime speech, told us to step it up and we did that," Buckley said. "We mostly played man defense in the third quarter."
"I thought Derek Buckley played great the second half defensively; he really made a lot of really nice plays for us," French said. "And I thought Donovan Love the whole game came in and gave us a spark on the defensive end. So, we had a lot of guys step up after halftime."
The Cougars committed 27 turnovers to 21 for the Rams.
Strasburg was 17-for-27 (.629) from the free-throw line, while Manassas Park went 12-for-24 (.500).
Manassas Park (5-16, 1-7 Bull Run) was led by Dylan Gaither with 12 points and Desmond McDonald with 10. The Cougars were without the services of senior guard Ryan Cutter, who broke his left arm in a game earlier this season.
"That first half, it was like we'd never seen a basketball before," French said. "I thought we played a lot better on the defensive end. We took a lot of scoring opportunities away from them and they turned the ball over a lot, and we were able to come down. McKelvey gave Huttner a lot of nice assists and setups in scoring position, and Huttner made up for a horrible first half."
"We're feeling good about [peaking at the right time] and going in strong [today]," Buckley said.