Colonels hold off Fork Union for signature win

MMA's Charles Falden goes up to make a jump pass under the basket while surrounded by Fork Union's Lamount McManus, left, and Jasiah Perry, center, during first half action Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Massanutten Military Academy’s postgraduate boys basketball team squandered a shot at a pair of signature victories over a couple top-ranked teams at the National Prep Showcase in Connecticut back in November. Drawing from what MMA guard Charles Falden called a “hunger to beat those top teams,” the Colonels picked up a statement win over visiting Fork Union Military Academy on Tuesday night.

MMA went into halftime trailing after a sloppy two minutes ended the first half, threatened to blow the game open midway through the second half, then held off the Blue Devils’ own run to pick up a 97-89 victory over a program ranked among the nation’s top 10 in multiple postgraduate basketball polls.

“It’s our third time playing a ranked team that’s really given us a lot of competition,” said point guard M.J. Melvin, who finished as one of three Colonels with at least 20 points in MMA’s 13th straight win. “I mean it’s a good group of guys. We’ve been prepared a long time for being able to put a show on for everybody here. I know it was a big win for us but it was a big win for the school as well.”

Fork Union (16-3) took a 46-42 lead into halftime after closing the first half on an 8-0 run, which ended on Seth O’Neal’s layup as time expired after MMA (19-2) forward Jamarko Pickett lost the handle on the basketball while attempting to dribble between his legs. But the Colonels, who shot just 36 percent in the first half, responded coming out of the break.

The teams traded buckets en route to a 59-59 score before the Colonels went on the second half’s first run, a 10-0 spurt that included 6 points from Falden and gave MMA a 69-59 lead with 11:35 left.

MMA's Jamarko Pickett goes up for dunk over Fork Union's Dimetri Chambers on a fast break during first half action Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Basically just keep our composure, don’t let the mistake we had at the end of the first half get too down on us,” Falden, who erupted for 20 of his 32 points in the second half, said of the key to the Colonels’ run. “Basically we came out, attacked and played defense.”

The Blue Devils cut the deficit to four on a 3-pointer from O’Neal (31 points) with 10 minutes to play, but MMA countered with a 14-1 run that began with back-to-back treys from Melvin (20 points, four steals) and Pickett (23 points) and ended with eight straight points from Falden, giving the Colonels an 83-66 lead with 7:35 to play.

“We just kept responding, kept making plays,” said MMA head coach Chad Myers, whose team shot 42 percent in the second half and 38.8 percent (26 for 67) from the floor in the win. “I try to tell our guys if you’re gonna be good players you’ve gotta make big-time plays. I thought Falden was great. Pickett was great. M.J. controlled the game and (Bud) Mack continues to make shots. We couldn’t ask for more.”

Fork Union stormed back with 11 unanswered points over the next two minutes to pull back within seven points before MMA turned to the free-throw line to hold off the Blue Devils.

Falden’s 3-pointer with 7:35 to play proved to be the Colonels’ final field goal of the night, but MMA hit 14 of 18 free throws over the last 4:42 of the game. The Colonels connected on five of their final six shots from the line after the Blue Devils pulled within 90-86 with 1:45 left on a 3-pointer from O’Neal, who fouled out seven seconds after nailing his sixth trey.

MMA's Charles Falden penetrates the lane for a shot as Fork Unon's Darian Peterson, center, and Zachary McIntire, right, defend during first half action Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

MMA made 34 of 42 free throws in the victory.

“We’ve gotta be able to spread the floor and make shots,” Myers said. “We’re trying to put five guys out there all the time that can make shots and spread people out. That’s what we’ve gotta do. That’s, I think, the one scare for us is how we’re gonna win games if we’re not making shots and making free throws.”

The Colonels entered Tuesday night’s game undersized due to an injury to forward Dom Sakickas and the departure of Keon Queen, a problem further compounded by 6-foot-11 forward Kasper Christiansen’s game-long foul trouble that kept the Denmark native glued to the bench for most of the night.

That left the 6-9 Pickett – who pulled down 14 rebounds and added five blocks – alone to man the interior of the Colonels’ defense, which made things more difficult for MMA as it tried to defend Fork Union’s inside-out offense.

“We talked about it going in, if we could get them in the 90s we thought we could win the game,” Myers said. “We didn’t want the game to be in the 70s. That’s more their style. We found a way. I don’t know if our defense was great but we scored enough points, that’s for sure.”

MMA's Kendrick Tucker splits Fork Union's Seth O'Neal, left, and LaMount McManus, right, as he drives to the basket during second half action Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

MMA was out-rebounded 49-37 in the game and the Blue Devils shot nearly 50 percent from the floor, although the Colonels did force 17 turnovers.

Mack finished with 16 points for MMA, which hit 11 3-pointers and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.

Lamont McManus had 16 points and nine rebounds for Fork Union, while Lepear Toles recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com

MMA's Charles Falden drives through the lane against Fork Union for a layup during second half action Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Massanutten Military Academy postgraduate boys basketball coach Chad Myers looks on during the second half of the Colonels' game against Fork Union on Jan. 24. Rich Cooley/Daily