Loudoun Valley High School basketball coach Chad Dawson can put away the matches: consider the fire underneath senior forward Jovon Miller officially lit.
After a lackluster first half, Miller piled up 17 second-half points to spur still-undefeated Loudoun Valley to a 58-42 victory over Loudoun County Jan. 11 in Leesburg.
And Miller did so after receiving a wake-up call from his coach during the halftime break.
“I told him at halftime he wasn’t playing like he was capable of playing,” recalled Dawson, “and if he’s not going to score for us, we were going to find someone else who could score. And I think he maybe got the message.”
It wasn’t just Miller who came out of the gates half a step slow. Loudoun County bettered the Vikings’ energy level early on in front of its home fans.
“I think in the beginning Loudoun County was very athletic and more aggressive than us,” Dawson said. “And we talked about that at halftime. Our leaders stepped up and finally got it going. It took us a little while.”
What surprised Dawson the most was his team’s complacency on defense, despite a solid week of preparation.
“We’ve had good practices, so I was a little caught off guard that we were moving on the catch and not on the pass,” he said.
Paul Rowley salvaged an anemic second quarter when he drained a fade-away buzzer-beater near the baseline to give the Vikings a one-point advantage, 20-19 at the half.
But the momentum didn’t carry over. The Raiders, led by standout senior guard Michael Anderson, gained a slight advantage in the opening stages of the third.
Then Anderson went down. He popped right back up, but was forced to exit the game because of an open cut to his forearm. His absence from the game was costly for Loudoun County; by the time Anderson re-entered, the Vikings had regained the lead.
For Raiders’ coach Mark Alexander, the whole episode could not have gone down at a less opportune time.
“You’re getting a rhythm in the game, and then that happens,” Alexander said. “It might have allowed them to regroup and do some different things.”
Miller only did one thing mostly: score. His shot with 3:46 remaining in the third gave the Vikings a 28-27 lead that they would never relinquish.
“Our focus was better,” Miller said of his team’s second-half efforts. “My teammates instilled confidence in me, and just told me to keep my head up after a bad first half.”
He took to heart Dawson’s tough-love motivation, but also the coach’s words of encouragement.
“He’s always telling me to keep my head,” Miller said. “He tells me I’m a good player, and I just need to keep on thinking that and play with confidence.”
Rowley finished with 10 points, and Cameron Kiani and Trey McDyre chipped in with nine. The Vikings will travel to Dominion on Jan. 19 to put their undefeated season on the line.
Each of the Vikings’ eight remaining games on the regular season docket will equate to a growing target on the team’s back.
“I think that’s something that our kids have to think about, that teams are going to want to take their best shot at us,” Dawson said, “and we’ve got to be ready to handle it.”
If they don’t want to make a habit of dramatic comebacks, Miller and the Vikings know they need to be sharper in the early going.
“Our effort has to be there every game or else we’re going to come out in a dogfight, which we don’t want,” Miller concluded.
Loudoun Valley 58, Loudoun County 42
LV: Miller 20, Rowley 10, McDyre 9, Kiani 9, Grimard 8, Smolens 2
LC: Anderson 17, Herring 6, Stinger 6, M. Adams 6, Supcoe 3, Borup 2, Gore 2
Halftime: Loudoun Valley, 20-19
3-pointers: LV 1 (McDyre); LC 6 (Anderson 2, M. Adams 2, Herring, Supcoe)
Free throws: LV (11 of 15); LC (8 of 9)
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