By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- The first half of last Saturday's boys basketball game against county rival Stonewall Jackson was a forgettable one for Central senior guard Ricky Neff. In fact, Neff will tell you straight up that it was "awful."
Neff was held scoreless in the first two periods against the Generals, and Central found itself trailing 28-19 going into halftime. In the locker room during the break, Neff approached first-year Falcons coach Brandon Shields to discuss some adjustments the senior could make in the second half.
"We just really talked about shot selection and what he wanted from me as far as shot selection and stuff went," Neff said. "The first half was ... terrible. We just talked about shot selection really, and getting me in good situations. We ran a few new plays to get [Travis] Cooper in good spots and me in good spots to try to get us going."
That little discussion with Shields appeared to change things completely for Neff and the rest of the Falcons, as Neff helped power a furious comeback in the second half that saw Central erase a 15-point third-quarter deficit in an eventual 48-44 win for the Falcons.
Neff, The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for the week of Dec. 22-28, tallied 19 second-half points and hit the go-ahead bucket with 27 seconds remaining to help lead the Falcons to victory.
"I was trying to do whatever it took to win," Neff said. "Cooper just kept telling me, 'Come get the ball. Come get the ball.' They were just trying to feed me. I started feeling it and started getting a little hot and they just kept feeding me the ball."
Neff's hot shooting in the second half began in the third period, as he nailed a 3-pointer as part of a Central run that cut into Stonewall's 39-25 lead late in the quarter.
The Generals took an 11-point lead into the fourth period, but Neff hit a pair of free throws and Cooper tallied five straight points to cut Stonewall's lead to 42-38 midway through the quarter. Neff then proceeded to score the final 10 points for the Falcons, including a turnaround jumper with 27 seconds left in the game to give Central its first lead since early in the first period.
"We wanted to go to Ricky," Shields said. "He caught it on the wing and I was just yelling at him to go. He works on that little turnaround all the time. It's never really been something that has materialized a lot in games, but I was confident in him to take that shot at that time based on the matchup and what they were doing. He turned around and he hit a great shot. He hit a big shot that really saved us at the end of that game."
And it wasn't just Neff's scoring that helped the Falcons complete the comeback win on Saturday. The senior also played a key role on defense as Central went to a full-court man-to-man press in the second half, and Neff was tasked with the challenge of slowing down Stonewall leading scorer Colton Harlow.
Harlow finished with a game-high 23 points, but 13 of those came in the first period.
"Against Stonewall we needed [Neff] to score, and we needed him to defend. He picked up Harlow full court for about a quarter and a half, took him out of the half court stuff and sped him up," Shields said. "Whatever we need Ricky to do, there's no questions, there's no complaining. He just wants to strap up and do it."
Saturday was at least the second time this season that Neff has come up big late in a game for the Falcons. In a 64-54 win over George Mason on Dec. 12, Neff was 4-4 from the free-throw line late in the fourth period and delivered several key assists to teammate Zach Herbaugh off of dribble penetration.
Shields said Neff's willingness to get his teammates involved and his high basketball IQ are what make the senior guard so special.
"He's just a great teammate. He just wants to win," Shields said. "He doesn't care if he scores two points or 20, if he can contribute to the win he's a happy kid."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD