The Ridge View boys basketball team spent most of this early season playing man-to-man defense. To change that, coach John Combs told his team, the Blazers had to prove in practice they could run something else effectively.
They did, and it paid off Tuesday night.
Ridge View mostly ditched its man defense at halftime in favor of more zone looks, and the move proved effective as the Blazers rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit against Lower Richland before holding on for a 73-68 overtime victory.
“(Combs) brought it up in practice that if we wanted to go zone, we had to show in practice that we could run it,” senior guard Dextor Foster said. “We did, and today it worked.”
The Blazers (4-3) watched helplessly as Lower Richland (3-5) built a 41-28 halftime advantage, thanks to nifty work in the paint. Jared Richardson sliced through the Blazer defense for 17 first-half points, while Alex Caldwell chipped in nine. Something had to give for Ridge View if it hoped to get back in it.
“Our man defense just simply wasn’t working,” said Combs, who noted the Blazers had played ’99 percent’ man defense before Tuesday. “It was ineffective, at best. Our zone was just good enough to slow them down and give ourselves a chance to win.”
The look appeared to take the Diamond Hornets by surprise, as Ridge View bullied its way to a 24-6 advantage in the third quarter. The lead ballooned to 10 on a Foster jumper with less than five minutes to play, giving the Blazers what seemed an insurmountable advantage.
“The zone really bothered them,” Combs said. “It was kind of weird to see, to make a run against a team when you’re playing zone. It was just the spark we needed.”
But Lower Richland – on the shoulders of Richardson, who finished with a game-high 33 – clawed its way back to tie the score at 63 at the end of regulation.
The two teams traded baskets the first few minutes of overtime before Richardson went to the line down a pair with less than 40 seconds to play. But he missed the second shot, and Foster sank a pair on the other end to give Ridge View a three-point advantage. Another errant shot on Lower Richland’s ensuing possession proved to be its final gasp.
“We had some good shots, we had some opportunities,” Diamond Hornets coach Mark Burnitz said. “We just got some bad breaks. We had every opportunity to win, credit to Ridge View. They played hard and they earned it.”
The Blazers had been in this situation before, as a back-and-forth game against Carlisle (Va.) in the Bojangles Bash ended in a 66-53 setback. The Blazers were determined this time to not allow another back-and-forth affair end similarly.
They didn’t. And they can thank their zone defense for that.
“This is big for our confidence, that’s the best part,” Foster said. “We’re a team built on confidence. We’re young, and we have a lot of egos. ... We’ve got to learn how to lose and bounce back like we did tonight.”