By ANDY WOLF
VAN BUREN — Van Buren boys basketball coach Tyler Niekamp didn’t have to do much to motivate his team on senior night.
He was right as the Black Knights beat Riverdale 55-43 on Friday in a game with Blanchard Valley Conference title implications.
“They’ve been motivating themselves all year, and they do a great job of that,” Niekamp said.
With the win, Van Buren (12-5, 9-1 BVC) remains tied with Arlington (15-4, 9-1) for first place atop the league standings with one game left.
Arlington, which beat Arcadia 59-34 on Friday, travels to Leipsic (9-10, 6-4) on Thursday while Van Buren wraps up the regular season Friday at Arcadia (3-17, 2-8).
“They do a good job of staying focused on what we need to do to get ourselves a chance to win,” Niekamp said. “I was really proud of the way we played and some of the effort play throughout this game ended up being huge.”
The Black Knights were led by Brady Rader, Michael Kramer and Nick McCracken, all with 11 points.
Saige Warren had eight points and five rebounds off the bench and Carson Goble tallied seven points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.
Rader also had 11 rebounds for a double-double, and led the team with five assists.
“I just go out there and try to bust my butt for my team,” Rader said. “That’s all I can do.”
Coby Miller scored a game-high 19 points with four steals to lead the Falcons (12-8, 7-3).
He scored seven straight early in the fourth quarter to rejuvenate Riverdale’s comeback attempt after falling behind 20-12 through one quarter.
His unassisted 3-pointer pulled the Falcons within 47-40 and with a Seth McElree free throw, they were back within two possessions.
“Coby hasn’t been scoring as much as he had last year and basically during the season so it was nice to see Coby get hot,” Riverdale coach Craig Taylor said. “Hopefully that carries over to the end of the season.”
Riverdale put Goble at the line for a one-and-one with 2:34 to and got the front-end miss it needed.
However, the rebound fell into the hands of Rader.
A few seconds later, Rader prevented a near steal by Riverdale’s Alec Loveridge on the same possession before dishing off to McCracken who knocked down an open jumper.
“I could kind of feel the momentum shifting, but Riverdale is a good team,” Rader said. “They weren’t just going to go away. We knew we had to keep it up and keep moving the ball and keep getting buckets to put them away. Credit to them; they fought to the last second.
“They’re a good team. They’re going to make a good run.”
Rader also had two more defensive rebounds down the stretch.
“Brady has been a hard-worker and gamer for us all season,” Niekamp said. “He doesn’t always have the stats like he had tonight but he comes in every day in practice and works his tail off.”
In a same sense of hustle but for Riverdale, Brock Davis chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds.
Loveridge added seven points and eight rebounds.
But the BVC’s leading offense at 59.8 points per game often struggled to crack Van Buren’s defense and put up their second-lowest point total of the season.
The Falcons shot just 36 percent overall (17 of 47), 3 of 15 from 3-point range — all makes by Miller.
“Their guys are 6-2 compared to our 5-9, 5-10 guys, so they’re a little bit longer,” Taylor said. “We were having a hard time penetrating and getting around them. They do a nice job of keeping us in front.”
Meanwhile, Van Buren was fluid with its ball movement and assisted on 10 of its 14 first-half buckets, often dishing to a wide-open or cutting player in the paint, and 15 of 22 total to three first-half turnovers.
“Our coach has been emphasizing on moving the ball a lot because we’re kind of at the bottom of the league for assist-to-turnover ratio (9th),” Rader said.
Van Buren converted 9 of 15 shots in the first quarter, including its last four makes during a 12-3 run in the final 3:54 to break the game open.
McCracken also recorded an emphatic chasedown block at the buzzer on McElree who got out ahead of everyone on a steal.
“We got off to a good start and were able to get good looks offensively,” Niekamp said. “We were running our offense well. … It’s good to see us share the ball well.”
RIVERDALE (12-8, 7-3 BVC)
Miller 8-0–19, Morris 1-0–2, Loveridge 2-3–7, McElree 1-1–3, Frey 1-0–2, Davis 4-2–10. TOTALS: 17-47 6-8–43.
VAN BUREN (12-5, 9-1 BVC)
Ohlrich 1-3–5, Rader 5-1–11, McCracken 5-1–11, Warren 3-0–8, Goble 2-3–7, Kramer 5-0–11, Clark 1-0–2. TOTALS: 22-48 8-13–55.
Riverdale 12 9 14 10 — 43
Van Buren 20 10 9 16 — 55
3-Point GOALS: Riverdale 3-15 (Miller 3); Van Buren 3-15 (Warren 2, Kramer).
rebounds: Riverdale 29 (Davis 9); Van Buren 36 (Rader 11).
turnovers: Riverdale 17; Van Buren 16.
junior varsity: Riverdale, 56-41.