Rebounds of the physical and mental varieties themed Burlington Central's 69-65 victory over Richmond-Burton in a key Big Northern East boys basketball matchup on Rocket Hill Friday.
In a game between rivals with 1 division loss apiece, Burlington Central's taller Rockets outrebounded R-B's Rockets 37-26.
From a mental standpoint Central summoned the fortitude to bounce back from the shock of seeing its 16-point, third-quarter lead transformed to a 4-point deficit with under three minutes to play.
After Richmond-Burton used a 27-7 run to take a 61-57 lead, Central coach Brett Porto called a timeout and challenged his players.
"Coach explained it could really make or break our season right there," said 6-foot-2 Central forward Bryce Warner, who finished with 9 points and 13 rebounds. "We battled through adversity and came back. It was a defining moment"
Burlington Central (10-13, 8-1) responded with a 9-2 run to regain the lead. Trailing 63-59, junior guard Brett Rau scored in the lane with 2:25 to play.
Following one of Richmond-Burton's 24 turnovers, junior James Raney, a 5-10 guard, tied the game 63-63 on a putback of a missed 3-point attempt. It was one of 12 second-chance buckets Central scored in the game.
"They destroyed us on the offensive glass," Richmond-Burton coach Brandon Creason said. "I mean, when they get 3 shots every time down the floor ... that's how they won. Even when we got the lead, they managed to get 2 or 3 shots every time down the floor. We played hard, but we just didn't rebound hard."
Junior Reed Hunnicutt gave Central a 2-point lead when he took a feed from Moter Deng and scored in the paint with 1:31 left.
Richmond -Burton (8-15, 6-2) pulled within 66-65 on a sophomore Sam Kaufman's hard cut to the basket, however, Central subsequently broke R-B's press and Rau sank a pair of free throws to restore the 3-point lead with 13.5 seconds to play.
Following another R-B turnover against Central's full-court pressure with 7.8 seconds left, Hunnicutt split 2 super-bonus free throws with 4.7 ticks on the clock to seal the win.
"I'm the oldest 27-year old in the state," said a relieved Porto. "That was a heck of a run (Richmond-Burton) made. There aren't enough timeouts in the world to stop a run like that. The way this season has gone, after we got down by 4 points it would have been a perfect opportunity for us to fold after having a big lead.
"But we made enough plays at the end. We hit enough free throws, hit a couple of layups and got a few stops. Maybe that's the sign that we're turning it around a little bit. It was definitely a big step maturity-wise and mental toughness-wise for us."
The win extended Central's winning streak to 4, it's longest of the season, and gives it a 1½-game lead over R-B in the BNC East with 3 games to play. The rivals will meet once more in the regular-season finale in Richmond on Feb. 22.
Deng scored 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds (3 offensive), and Hunnicutt added 13 points for Central.
Senior guard Chris Vlasak scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter to lead Richmond-Burton's comeback, while Kaufman added 16 and Mike Kaska 13.