ROCKVILLE — After each bucket, Springbrook’s Cameron Rucker hastened back to the other end of the floor. There was no time for showboating or attention-seeking acts, the senior guard had to make sure the transition defense was on lockdown. With 1:01 into the second quarter, Blue Devils workhorse Matthew Balanc got ejected after a second technical foul, prompting Rucker to brunt the load and amplify every facet of his game on the fly.
When Balanc sat because of foul trouble, Rucker rattled off 10 first-quarter points to help mount an early 12-point lead, including 3-pointers on two of the last three Springbrook possessions of the first quarter. Despite Bethesda-Chevy Chase’s best effort, cutting the lead to two possessions on many occasions down the stretch, Rucker refused to ease up and eventually finished with a career-high 32 points in a wire-to-wire 82-72 win.
“I had to take that lead-man role,” said Rucker, who also added a team-high seven rebounds. “I don’t like using that term, because we’re a whole team, but I had to step up.”
Balanc, who is committed to Division I Quinnipiac in Connecticut, averaged over 20 points per game as a junior in 2016-17 and leads Springbrook this winter as legitimate title contender in a stiff MPSSAA Class 4A North, which has reigning champion Perry Hall and ranked Dulaney. He started the contest with a 180-degree, reverse, two-handed flush in transition and, not long after, tomahawked a dunk on the fast break. Those would be the only instances Balanc scored on Friday night, as he picked up a technical foul 46 seconds into regulation and then got ejected with a second technical when he over-exaggerated a dunk attempt in transition by hanging on the rim. He finished with just four points and one rebound.
But Rucker rose to the occasion seamlessly, powering a Blue Devils team that never missed a beat. Midway through the second quarter, when the Barons had drawn to within 25-19, Rucker dropped a smooth fadeaway jumper in the high-post and minutes later, converted practically the same shot to put the Blue Devils ahead by double digits once more, 37-26. In the third quarter, an 8-2 Bethesda-CC run cut Springbrook’s lead to 43-38, but Rucker, off a sweet dish in the pick-and-roll from point guard Delaino Jessup (12 points, six assists, three rebounds), finished a layup off the glass to get the Blue Devils out of trouble.
“He knew he had to step up,” Springbrook coach Darnell Myers said. “He played a helluva game.”
The Barons got to as close as four — 45-41 with 4:13 left in the third quarter — but the Blue Devils slowly pulled away and built a 72-57 lead after 3’s from Xavier Harrison and Rucker with under-5 minutes left in regulation.
Two buckets in four seconds to end the 3rd adds to Springbrook's lead, 64-52. Debino Jessup (9pts, 5asts) with the crafty finish and Cameron Rucker (26pts, 7rebs) a steal and score. pic.twitter.com/9A7Ai9Ktge
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) December 9, 2017
Anthony Desruisseau had 17 points and four rebounds and Timitrius Whitney-Hawkins dished five assists, both for Springbrook, which assisted on 17 of its 33 field goals.
“One thing we preach is to make the extra pass,” Myers said.
Another thing Myers preaches is an up-in-your-grill defensive tempo. On Friday, Springbrook forced Bethesda-CC into 17 turnovers.
“That’s our style,” Myers said. “We want to play hard-nosed and get after people.”
Elijah Wood had seven points and assists, but seven turnovers for Bethesda-CC. Gordon Gibson added six points, nine rebounds and three assists, and Miles English posted 18 points and nine rebounds, both for the Barons. Kevin McAuliffe chipped in with 19 points (four 3’s) and five rebounds off the bench.
Depending on who you ask, many will say Springbrook is the top team in Montgomery County, while Bethesda-CC is second. And for the Blue Devils to perform the way they did without its engine bodes well for the road ahead, which features games at Blake and home slates versus Whitman, Richard Montgomery and Clarksburg before the holiday break.
“We have to stay humble,” Rucker said. “and keep grinding.”