RICHMOND – For Richmond-Burton, Tuesday's Big Northern Conference East Division game against North Boone was a microcosm of its season.
R-B (8-14 overall, 6-1 BNC East) began the game rather slowly and had no rhythm early when it came to scoring, while North Boone was able to effectively navigate the Rockets' press defense with crisp passing.
But in the second half the Rockets cleaned up any issues and turned in one of their best halves of the season in a 54-25 victory.
A 13-0 run to start the third quarter was sparked by Mike Kaska's 3-pointer followed by plenty of scoring in the paint to build on R-B's 24-15 halftime lead. The Vikings' Michael Gilmore stopped the bleeding when he scored from behind the arc with 4:27 to play in the quarter.
"They're really coming around," R-B coach Brandon Creason said of his players. "We started the season really poorly and there were some dark days, and they have been resiliant. We've come a long way from our start and I'm proud of them when they could've just given up."
The Rockets began the season 1-12 and without much identity, but as the season has progressed into conference play the Rockets have hit their stride and have won seven of their past nine games.
Their improved play was on display Tuesday night as each of the starting five scored at least six points, and when a comfortable lead was in hand the bench players took over and scored a combined 13 points.
"We came out a little flat, but in the second half we really turned it on," said Sam Kaufman, who scored a game-high 12 points. "We played good defense and got a lot of easy shots. And we work as a team, it's fun like that. We always say it's harder to guard five people than it is one.
"With all of us going, we can score in the paint and hit some 3s. We're definitely not shy about shooting an open shot no matter where it is on the floor."
The Rockets' improved play has them battling for the top spot in their division with Burlington Central. Burlington will host R-B on Friday in a game the Rockets had to push to the back of their minds Tuesday.
"Friday's game meant nothing if we didn't take care of business tonight, so that was the focus," Creason said. "We didn't mention it prior because we knew if we didn't win this then that game would be nothing. As it stands now, that is a for-first-place game."
The Rockets have come a long way since their "dark days" as their confidence in themselves has returned in time for a shot at first place.