Luol Deng is a great player capable of carrying a team on his back.
But on Wednesday night in a 70-56 victory over West Nottingham Academy, Deng's play fueled and inspired his teammates, each of whom played instrumental roles in a decisive 27-6 third quarter surge that cinched the game for the Bucs.
While Deng scored 13 of his game high 24 points during the third quarter outburst, Blair also got major contributions from Roberto Felipe (six points in third quarter) and Chris Alvarez (seven points in fourth quarter).
"I feel like my play lifts up my team," Deng explained. "In the second quarter, I was missing shots, and that wore down our intensity on defense."
The Bucs opened up a 24-14 lead midway through the second quarter, only to see West Nottingham end the first half on an 18-6 run for a 32-30 half-time lead.
"When I stepped up my intensity and made shots in the second half, we really stepped it up on defense, and that was the key, the defense," Deng said. "They only scored six points in the third quarter, and that's what we wanted them to do."
Deng certainly had his mojo brewing in the third quarter. In the first four minutes of the period, he scored eight points in a 16-0 blitz that turned a two point deficit into a 44-30 lead.
It only got worse for West Nottingham, as Blair extended the lead to as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter before calling the dogs off.
Alvarez (13 points), Felipe (11) and Siena bound combo guard Mike Beers (11) each hit for double figures in the win. That was significant, since the Bucs were playing without 6-9 forward Charlie Villanueva, who sat out with a mild case of mono.
"If Charlie had played, it would have been a very different game," Deng said. "With his presence, we are a different team."
"But I think all of the guys on the team knew that, and we were ready for that, knowing that Charlie wasn't there," Deng continued. "Chris Alvarez did a great job, and he tried to fill Charlie's missing spot, which is a hard thing to do. But we got the win, so I think we did a good job."
Without Villanueva swatting shots in the paint, West Nottingham's Josh Boone was tough for Blair to contain. Boone, who signed with UConn last month, netted 23 points in the defeat.
In fact, Deng found himself in some unfamiliar surroundings at times.
"I had to play inside on defense, and outside on offense, which is kind of weird," he reflected. "Wherever coach puts me, I am going to play."