HARVARD – With his Richmond-Burton boys basketball team now a win away from clinching an outright Big Northern Conference East Division title, Brandon Creason knows the Rockets should be playing better basketball.
Creason is perplexed why problematic symptoms have suddenly crept into R-B's routine and is hopeful they vanish before the postseason begins next week. But even though the Rockets aren't meeting the kind of championship standard Creason would like his team to be at, R-B is finding ways to win when it needs to.
That included Tuesday night, when the Rockets used a solid first-half performance and then shook off a shaky third quarter to earn a share of an East Division crown with a 53-41 win over Harvard.
The Rockets (19-7, 9-2 BNC East) can capture an outright division title on Friday night with a win over Burlington Central. But for that to happen, Creason said, the Rockets can't afford a repeat performance of a win on Tuesday he characterized as lackadaisical.
"We've got to play better than this right now," Creason said.
The Rockets built a 14-point halftime lead, using 6-foot-9 freshman center Joe St. Pierre to their advantage. St. Pierre had a decided size advantage in the post and combined with teammate Reggie Banks to control the post while Sam Kaufman – who led the Rockets with 15 points – was productive from the perimeter.
Harvard adjusted defensively in the second half and collapsed on St. Pierre. The Hornets used defensive pressure to close the gap to only six points late in the third quarter when Justin Nolen scored off a steal.
Nolen scored a game-high 19 points, but the Hornets (11-17, 4-7 BNC East) couldn't translate its high-pressure defense into enough point production to get any closer.
"We would score one out of every three possessions and that's not good enough," Harvard coach Donnie Nolen said. "We were getting stops (on the defensive end), but we just weren't capitalizing on the other end."
The Hornets again got within six points midway through the fourth quarter, but R-B – which got 10 points from St. Pierre and eight points from Banks and Blaine Bayer – was able to maintain close to a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
Now, everything comes down to Friday, when the Rockets could capture a division title with a win over Burlington Central and then carry some momentum into next week's regional tournament. But, like life as of late for R-B, it won't be easy.
"February is a tough month and when you can power through it and get a couple of wins, it's a sign of having a strong mental approach," Kaufman said. "It's hard to stay focused and remember the whole time that we're playing for a conference championship rather through just getting through the game."