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East Rockingham 73, Turner Ashby 62.  Tyler Nickel drops 42 points — just three shy of his career-high. 

 

Call it a guilty pleasure or, maybe, it’s just plain cruel.

But when Tyler Nickel steps on the basketball court, he isn’t necessarily there to make friends or build camaraderie with the opposing team. In fact, the East Rockingham junior said it’s the exact opposite situation on the hardwood.

“I love competition,” said the 6-foot-8 guard that is considered one of the top prospects in the country for his class. “When the game is tight and people start getting confidence and you hit a few shots, you see all the energy drain out of the other team. That gives me energy because I know however hype they just got, I just took it away from them.”

Nickel did just that on Wednesday, answering every Turner Ashby run with an impressive spurt of his own en route to a 42-point performance as the Eagles led from start to finish in a 73-62 win in boys basketball action in Bridgewater.

“He has that sense when he needs to be even more aggressive,” East Rock coach Carey Keyes said. “I thought he did that tonight. They made a run and then we made a run with him really in attack mode. It’s nice having that, obviously.”

On paper the matchup between the Knights and Eagles looked like a mismatch with unbeaten East Rockingham coming in with back-to-back wins over Spotswood and Broadway while Turner Ashby was winless entering the game.

Coming off a loss to Wilson Memorial earlier this week — one that saw the Knights blow a 20-point second-half lead — first-year Turner Ashby coach Brandon Shields said it would have been easy for his squad to be demoralized.

“We came to practice yesterday and we got after, worked hard,” said TA guard Tyson Snow, who finished with 17 points. “We came out tonight and we competed. We just worked hard and we were in the game the entire time. Tyler made some tough shots, but we just competed the whole game and it fell their way. I think we did enough to win tonight. We could get a little more aggressive on defense, but [East Rock] just found a way to win tonight.”

East Rock jumped out to an early lead and went up by as many as seven early in the second quarter on a bucket from Nickel, but the Knights used a quick-hitting, fast-paced offensive attack to go on a series of runs and stay in the game.

“That was the main focus of the scouting report,” said Nickel, who also had six rebounds. “They can get hot out of nowhere and they’re going to run the floor and get up quick shots. If you’re not locked in and getting back, they’re going to hit shots and go on runs. We saw what could happen and they did exactly what [Keyes] said could happen.”

Just before the half, a 3 from Snow followed by a transition bucket from Jacob Keplinger evened the score at 26.

Fittingly, Nickel responded with a 3 on the opposing end to help spark a 10-2 run and put EHRS up 36-28 at half.

“They’re difficult to guard because they’ve got three or four shooters at all spots on the floor — guards and bigs — so matchup wise, it’s hard,” Keyes said. “If you’re not locked in and ready to guard, they’re going to beat you. They drive downhill really hard and they do a great job of sharing the ball. I thought they played great. I give them credit.”

The two teams continued exchanging buckets into the third, although TA never took a lead or tied the game, but the momentum of the contest shifted after back-to-back buckets from Snow cut the East Rockingham lead to 45-43.

Nickel answered with back-to-back 3s and scored eight of the Eagles’ next 10 points to give ERHS a 55-43 advantage with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth. The Knights never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

“You have to give Tyler so much attention that it leaves the other 6-foot-7 guy open on the perimeter, which leaves the backside open,” Shields said of East Rock’s offense. “It’s a conundrum for everybody. [Nickel] is a heck of a player, obviously. I thought, given our personnel, we did all we could do. We just don’t have a guy with that size and that strength. We tried to crowd him a little bit, but he can get his shot whenever he wants and that’s the way he does.”

Six different players got in the scoring column for well-balanced Turner Ashby (0-4) in the loss. Garret Spruhan led the way with 18 points while Snow finished with 17, Noah Gerber added 10 and Keplinger chipped in with nine.

“It’s real fun when you can just be aggressive on offense,” Snow said. “My teammates all do a good job of driving and kicking, getting everyone involved. It could be anybody’s night any night. We’re just trying to stay aggressive on offense.. … We have to put it together for an entire game. We have to put it all together to get a win.”

Despite remaining winless, Shields said he liked what he saw out of his team as he continues to rebuild the program.

“I thought the character of our team really showed tonight,” Shields said. “We have senior leaders, guys who believe in what we’re trying to build here. I’m telling you they’re doing everything they can, given the circumstances we’re in right now. It’s a learning curve for us right now. We’re still building this thing. … We’re really figuring things out as we go.”

Nickel’s 42-point outburst against the Knights on Wednesday was just three shy of his career-high of 45 that he set last season. Through three games this season, the four-star prospect is averaging 32.3 points per game.

“I realized I wasn’t really doing what I could have in the beginning and I realized what I could exploit them at,” Nickel said about his performance. “I just tried to expose that later in the game by just taking advantage of open spots, not overthinking and letting the game come to me. For whatever reason, I was a little tight at the beginning of the game. I just had to shake it off. I ended up just getting more and more comfortable as we went along throughout the game.”

Kyle Evick, a former TA student that transferred to ERHS early in his career, added 20 points and nine rebounds for the Eagles (3-0) while Michael Shifflett finished with six points and six boards. Cooper Keyes had four steals.

“To come back to this gym, it’s deja vu,” Evick said. “There’s not a game that I’m never ready for — I’m always ready — but it feels like this one has me getting up in the morning and just extra ready to go.”

Keyes said he wanted his entire roster to be more amped up on Wednesday and left disappointed with the effort the Eagles put together on the defensive end. Part of their problem, however, was due to how impressive the Knights are.

“We have to be more locked in than we were tonight, but I’m never going to complain about a win,” Keyes said. “Offensively, I thought we did some great stuff. Defensively, not so much, but I have to give TA and Coach Shields credit. They’re tough to guard. When they get going, they can score quickly. They’re going to be just fine.”

TA showcased its potential as a team that can play with anybody on Wednesday and they provided Nickel the type of opportunities he cherishes as one of the best players to come through in the Shenandoah Valley in recent years.

“Any type of competition, anything that makes me rise to another level and puts a little mean streak in me — I just use that to my advantage,” Nickel said. “That’s what I tried to do tonight.”

Edited by Class of '66 Old Fart
Added Game Story

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East Rockingham never led and lost to Highland 71 - 65.  East Rock trailed by double digits from midway in the 1st Q until the 4thQ when it did make a mini run to narrow the final score.  Nickel finished with 31 pts on 7-13 on 2s; 4-12 on 3s; 5-6 FT; 11 reb; 0 asst; 0 stl; 2 blk; 3 TO.

First game I've seen him play.  Although he had a double-double, watching him on the court he seemed disinterested.  Masks are mandatory so you could never see facial expressions but his body language was someone going through the motions.  On defense he got beat off the dribble a number of times.

If you watch the replay, the first half and the second half are 2 separate videos on the Highland School facebook page.

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East Rockingham defeated Buffalo Gap 76-45 and advanced to the district championship to face Staunton.  Nickel set a career and school record with 46 pts.

And our guy scores 0. I know it is a knee jerk reaction, but I want the alpha players dominating the HS landscape. Moving on.


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Story on last night's game.

 It took less than a minute for the first bucket and only 23 seconds for the next one.

“When he’s in that kind of mood, no one is stopping him,” said East Rockingham junior point guard Cooper Keyes of his fellow junior teammate and standout guard Tyler Nickel. “He’s just making shots and he did that tonight.”

Nickel, a 6-foot-8 guard that is considered the best player in the Shenandoah Valley, erupted for a career-high 46 points as the top-seeded Eagles throttled fifth-seeded Buffalo Gap 76-46 in the Region 2B semifinals in Elkton.

It was the sixth time Nickel has eclipsed the 40-point mark in his career and broke his previous scoring high of 45 that he set in a win over rival Spotswood last season in Penn Laird. His 46 points also set a program single-game record.

“When I see that look in his eyes and he’s feeling it, we’re going to get him the ball every time down,” East Rockingham coach Carey Keyes said. “Gap, man, just kept coming back at us. [Bison point guard Tanner] Rivenburg is a great player and we couldn’t put them away. Tyler got crazy hot. We started calling simple little quick hitters for him to get him some space and he didn’t need a lot of it. The guys know. That’s the thing about our team. We’re unselfish. Guys want to win and they know he’s a special player. When he gets on fire like that, they’re going to find him.”

After Nickel scored eight points to help the Eagles begin the game with an 11-0 run, the Bison relied heavily on the play of their senior point guard Rivenburg to chip away at the lead and cut the deficit to three heading to the second.

But each time Gap started to gain any sort of confidence, East Rock — spearheaded by Nickel — responded. That included an 18-2 run in the second quarter that doubled the Bison’s total and seemingly put the game away.

“We all realize the severity of win-or-go-home at this point,” said Nickel, who also had five rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks in the win. “We know how important every single game is. Every game we play is a state-tournament game in our eyes. That plays a role in how serious we are and how unsatisfied we are with just getting to states.”

After a difficult regular-season schedule against only Class 3 and Class 4 opponents, the Class 2 Eagles have looked like a rejuvenated team in the postseason with a pair of 30-point blowout victories over Clarke County and the Bison.

“It let us fine-tune ourselves,” Nickel said of East Rock taking a week off to practice before the playoffs. “When you’re playing games a lot, you get caught up in what’s going on and the same routine over and over. With practice, you can really make things different, switch things up and make things fresh. I think that played to our advantage tonight. We’ve seen so many different scenarios in practice that, no matter what we’re going to see, we’re good.”

In the final week of the regular season, the Eagles faced Charlottesville and Eastern Mennonite once and Highland School twice. They finished 2-2 in that stretch, but Carey Keyes said that’s what may be the turning point.

“I called it the gauntlet — that week of games,” Keyes said. “That took a lot out of us. It was nice to have some time off. … I thought our schedule prepared us for this regional tournament and, hopefully, the state tournament.”

Cooper Keyes had eight points, six assists and three steals for East Rockingham while Michael Shifflett added seven points, five boards and four assists. Kyle Evick had four points and 11 rebounds while Kemper Siever had four points.

Rivenburg finished with 30 points for the Bison (8-6) while Noah Canterbury added seven. Jackson LaPorte and Ethan Teter chipped in with four apiece. All-Shenandoah District first-team selection Bennett Bowers missed the game.

“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Cooper said. “I think we showed at the beginning of the season that we’re built for these kind of games, but we just have to take it one game at a time and not get caught looking ahead.”

The Eagles (8-2) advance to the Region 2B title game for the third straight year and will host a familiar foe in Staunton — a 67-41 winner over Page County on Tuesday. That game is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in Elkton.

“That’s our message every single season,” Keyes said of staying focused. “I think they know me too well not to do that. I could tell yesterday that they were really locked in. We haven’t played a [Class 2] game all season. They were excited to show what they could do against those teams. They were ready to go last night and again tonight. We’re going to have to be even better on Thursday. Regardless of who we play, those are two really good teams.”

East Rockingham is now three wins away from bringing home its first state championship in program history, but players and coaches are remaining focused. If they want to accomplish that goal, they know that’s important.

And with Nickel having games like Tuesday’s, it’s becoming more and more likely they can get it done.

“Honestly, I always play with a chip on my shoulder,” Nickel said. “But today, there were some things going on that made me really put me over the edge. I don’t know anything specifically as to why, but I just started feeling good. It felt smooth and natural and my teammates put me in really good positions. Everything was firing on all cylinders.”

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10 hours ago, WayneFleekHoosier said:


And our guy scores 0. I know it is a knee jerk reaction, but I want the alpha players dominating the HS landscape. Moving on.


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I like Gunn and am happy to have him but I understand the sentiment when looking at these stat lines. I just keep reminding myself that Gunn plays on a really good and balanced team that plays at a slow pace and that he clearly brings something to the table or he wouldn't be ranked anywhere near 4-star territory.  I think the answer is that we really need to get a kid like Nickel or Alex Karaban to go along with Gunn in this class.  A 6’7” – 6’9” wing that can flat out score would complement him and a PG prospect in this class nicely.

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I like Gunn and am happy to have him but I understand the sentiment when looking at these stat lines. I just keep reminding myself that Gunn plays on a really good and balanced team that plays at a slow pace and that he clearly brings something to the table or he wouldn't be ranked anywhere near 4-star territory.  I think the answer is that we really need to get a kid like Nickel or Alex Karaban to go along with Gunn in this class.  A 6’7” – 6’9” wing that can flat out score would complement him and a PG prospect in this class nicely.

Well stated. Yeah, I don’t dislike Gunn. On the contrary, seems like an easy kid to root for. Therefore, I hope he puts in all the work and maximizes his potential. But yeah, we need at least 2 natural scorers soon.


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11 hours ago, WayneFleekHoosier said:


Well stated. Yeah, I don’t dislike Gunn. On the contrary, seems like an easy kid to root for. Therefore, I hope he puts in all the work and maximizes his potential. But yeah, we need at least 2 natural scorers soon.


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Be sure to watch the vid clip in Gunn's own thread.  A lot different player in those AAU games than how Lawrence North plays and utilizes him.  Really interesting to see how Keefer uses him next season with the LN talent that's graduating.

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