In the year and half since he came to Indian River High School as a freshman, sophomore point guard Tyree Oliver has shown glimpses of brilliance, negotiating the hardwood to break full-court presses or making sizzling passes. But seldom has he ever been known as a scorer. That was until the 5-foot, 4-inch floor general scored nine of his career-high 11 points in the second half of the Indians’ 51-45 win over the Woodbridge Raiders on Jan. 11.
Indians head coach Pat Kelly relegated Oliver to a reserve role during the Daily Times Mason-Dixon Cup tournament, in favor of fellow sophomore Jamar Manuel, who has more offensive range.
And, rather than pout about playing time, Oliver continued to clock in every day at practice and worked back into the starting lineup — something that Kelly has always admired about his fledgling point guard.
“He’s a leader and he plays hard,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t quit and he’s getting a little more aggressive to the paint.”
“What he needs to work on is making better passes in the paint, and when to pull up and shoot,” Kelly added. “Too often he gets caught in the middle and can’t finish.”
Oliver made his second shot — in the paint, actually, after missing a jumper — coming off the bench in first quarter of the Woodbridge game and finished the first half with three assists and three steals. He committed no turnovers.
Then in the second half, Oliver made three of six shots, including a baseline jumper that appeared to bend around the backboard and a fourth-quarter three-pointer that marked three straight made shots on three of four fourth-quarter field-goal attempts.
Oliver’s baseline jumper pulled the Indians within one point of the Raiders’ 33-32 lead before heading into the fourth quarter down 35-32.
But with a brim full of confidence, Oliver kept at it and sparked an 8-2 Indian River run to start the fourth quarter. Oliver converted two Indian River steals into four points on back-to-back defensive possessions and then gave the Indians a four-point lead after hitting a wide-open three-pointer with about half of the fourth quarter remaining.
Oliver finished the game with 11 points on five of 10 shooting from the field, including one of three from beyond the arc, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. The baskets he scored gave the Indians just enough breathing room to hold off the Raiders.
“I’ve been working real hard in practice and I knew I had to step it up,” Oliver said. “We have a lot of players hurt, so we’ve had to go with a smaller lineup. And I knew we had to beat Woodbridge, so I had to help them out.”
“The fourth quarter is crunch time,” he added. “And that’s when you have to rise to the challenge.”
Kelly reinserted Oliver as the point guard in the last minute of the first quarter of the Delmar game, to hold for the last shot in hopes of extending their 12-9 lead after being relegated to mainly ball-handling duties in spot situations during prior two games.
Oliver didn’t disappoint and connected one of his game-high six assists to Miyo Castro for a mid-air basket in the paint with only six seconds remaining in the quarter.
He missed two of three second-quarter free-throws after making six of six in the three games preceding the Delmar game. But by that time it appeared that the game was beginning to slow down for him.
Oliver finished the Delmar game with six assists, five rebounds and three steals, and he had one point on one of three shots from the charity stripe.
His previous high point total this season was six points against Smyrna in the season opener.