By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Clay Clinedinst had a simple message for his Randolph-Macon Academy boys basketball team Thursday night.
After watching his team struggle to do much offensively against a short-handed Massanutten Academy squad, Clinedinst felt the need to remind his players to loosen up a bit for the second half.
"I guess we couldn't throw a rock in the ocean for the first half, almost," Clinedinst said. "I think it was almost like we know we're better, so we overplayed ourselves almost. At halftime I said, 'Hey, how about going out in the second half and play the game, and have fun?'"
The Yellow Jackets got the message, and turned what had still been a relatively close game into a 60-30 blowout victory.
R-MA (3-9) led just 23-15 at halftime despite clearly outmatching the smaller Colonels in the front-court. The Yellow Jackets pushed that advantage even more in the second half, and the result was big games for center Paul Miller (15 points, 16 rebounds) and forward Carson Holder (15 points, 20 rebounds).
"We know we have dominant big men with Carson and Paul, so we force it inside," R-MA point guard Chris Rowe said. "Sometimes it was working and sometimes it wasn't, but they let us know if they don't have a shot inside."
Massanutten Academy (6-9) was short from the start after having two players, one a starter and the other a key reserve, quit the team on Wednesday. That, combined with the Colonels' road struggles, was too much to overcome.
"We just didn't play well," Colonels coach Ryan Dowler said. "It's definitely a tough one because I don't feel like it should have been as bad as it was. We just struggled offensively. We usually do struggle offensively when we're not at home. We struggle to get shots, we struggle on defense more than we usually do and we turn the ball over more when we're away than we do at home."
The Colonels got more bad news when leading scorer Joshua Holt had to sit in the third quarter with foul trouble. R-MA forced seven turnovers during that pivotal eight-minute span to outscore Massanutten 17-10. Holder and Miller combined for nine and helped the Yellow Jackets put up a staggering 29 shot attempts in the period.
"We always struggle with pressure and I don't understand why," Dowler said. "I tell them to relax and just calm down, and we just don't. We still go out there and we still get flustered.
"... We still try to pass over people, and our guards are too small to try and pass over anybody. We continue to do that. No matter how many times I tell them, they still try to do it."
Up 15 heading into the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets finished with a flourish by outscoring the Colonels 20-5 in the period.
Thomas Lloyd led Massanutten Academy with 12 points, and Holt added eight before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
Evan Lester chipped in 13 points and Rowe had 10 for R-MA, which picked up a sorely-needed win.
"We don't have killer instinct because we're the ones who are used to getting killed," Clinedinst said. "And that's hard to instill something like that. I'm glad that they came out and played in the second half."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>