MANCHESTER — Nico Graham didn’t establish much of a presence in the first half of Monday’s boys basketball game between Westminster and Manchester Valley, so the Owls senior decided to change things up during the intermission.
“I spoke up ... going into the locker room I felt as I really had to get [us] up,” Graham said about Westminster’s halftime adjustments. “Just by getting inspired, getting the energy back up. I told them to let them know who we are as a team.”
Graham did his part by nine of his 15 points in the third quarter and helping lift the Owls to a 68-60 victory.
The forward made it a point to demand the ball in the post, and his athleticism seemed to be contagious. Westminster (13-3, 8-0 in the Carroll County Athletic League) worked the ball inside, which led to better looks around the perimeter as well.
Denio Blaney, a senior guard, finished with a team-high 18 points, and added five steals and four assists. Chandler Gentzel, another senior backcourt player, added seven points. But the Owls took command by going to their bigs.
“Our guards were turning the ball over, we definitely needed to pound them inside,” said Westminster coach Brett Kanther. “And Nico has delivered. He has been outstanding all year. He’s on a run now where he’s really starting to dominate.”
Westminster connected on 17 of 24 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to keep the Mavericks (5-9, 3-5) at bay, and Graham had six points in the final frame. He totaled 15 points and seven rebounds in the Owls’ CCAL win over Winters Mill on Jan. 10.
“We like when the guards hype our big men up,” Graham said. “The bigs, we work on it together. And it reflects on each other, the energy goes to each other.”
Junior center Conner Levinson scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Westminster, which trailed by eight points in the second quarter but closed the period on an 11-5 run to get closer. The Owls outscored Man Valley 16-10 in the third quarter, sparked by Graham, then used their guards to maintain control and sink critical free throws.
MV senior Brett DeWees, Carroll’s County’s leading scorer, finished with a game-high 19 points, and Mavericks junior guard Zach Bowen added 16. The Mavs were without one of their offensive threats in senior guard Dahon Saunders (injury), and coach Chris Wunder said Westminster’s power moves were the difference.
“They wore us down going inside” Wunder said. “We were trying to front [them] the entire time, and sometimes we kind of forgot and [Graham] got good position. And then other times we didn’t have that backside help, helping with that lob.”
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Ja’Quan Dukes netted 11 points for the Mavericks, who visit Middletown on Wednesday before traveling to Century on Friday. Westminster, meanwhile, had an answer coming off a road loss last Friday against Linganore that halted a seven-game win streak.
The Owls host Francis Scott Key on Friday in preparation for Century at home Feb. 4. The Knights are in second place in the county standings, and Westminster won the first meeting 52-46 on Jan. 8 in Eldersburg.
“In the beginning of the season, our post players ... I was on them,” Kanther said. “And now I think that our post offense is a strength. And that complements our guards.”
Westminster (68): Chandler Gentzel 7, Tyler Buberl 5, Denio Blaney 18, Erick Stranko 5, Connor Levinson 12, Nico Graham 15, Alan Jean Joseph 6.
Man Valley (60): Ja’Quan Dukes 11, Zach Bowen 16, Chris Wunder 7, Hunter Leaman 2, Brett DeWees 19, Connor Rugguri 5.
Halftime: MV, 29-27.
JV result: Westminster, 69-27.