Oakland Mills’ players sat on the floor in various stages of disbelief. Having just watched Calvert’s Tavi Thomas sink a corner 3-pointer with nine seconds left in the 2A South regional championship game to clinch a 69-67 Cavaliers victory, the Scorpions were struggling to find the energy to walk off the court.
An undefeated season, for the second time in three years, had been spoiled one game short of the state’s final four.
“All those negative memories came back all at once … déjà vu all over again for us,” said Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne, whose undefeated team lost to Gwynn Park in the region finals in 2010-11. “It’s unfortunate, I mean I felt like we had it that whole game until the last possession really. But that’s basketball, sometimes things just don’t go your way.”
While the Scorpions (24-1) were devastated, Calvert (19-6) swarmed the court in celebration of the program’s first trip to the state semis since 1997. And Thomas, who scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, was the hero.
“I caught the ball on the 3-(point)-line, let it go and was just praying it was going to go in,” said the senior guard, who also pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds. “My heart was pounding, but I had confidence.”
That late 3-pointer capped a comeback for Calvert from being down as many as 10 points late in the third quarter. But Thomas got going, while Josh Smith (23 pts) and Jermaine Hunter (20) continued their strong play, and the Cavaliers simply chipped away at the Oakland Mills lead little by little leading up to those final seconds.
Following Thomas’ basket that put Calvert ahead by two, Oakland Mills dribbled the length of the court and got an open look for a 3-pointer of its own, but the attempt by Deshawn Willis (15 points) was just off the mark and the ensuing tip attempt went wide as time expired.
“We’ve practiced the last couple weeks how we’re going to end games when we’re in tight situations and what to do,” Calvert coach Jeremy Kurutz said. “I told them it’s going to be loud and they’re going to have to go on instinct from what we’ve practiced and they did it perfectly.”
Calvert’s play down the stretch spoiled career nights from Oakland Mills’ interior duo of Lavon Long (25 points and 12 rebounds) and Dajuan Dent (16 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks).
The two of them wasted little time setting the tone in front of another sold-out home crowd for the Scorpions, scoring 18 of the team’s first 22 points on the way to establishing an eight-point lead, 22-14, early in the second quarter.
“They were phenomenal, man. They both came out extremely focused and got after it,” Browne said. “They carried us for long stretches tonight.”
But, as would prove to be a theme all evening, Calvert showed resiliency. Behind the point guard play of Hunter and the interior moves of Smith, the Cavaliers answered with an 11-2 spurt of their own to grab a one-point lead, 25-24.
Over the final three minutes of the half, Calvert maintained that advantage and took a 33-32 edge into the intermission.
“We knew coming in that there were going to be some highs and there were going to some lows, but the key was going to be staying in a level state of mind,” said Smith. “Through the whole game we stayed focused on what was happening at that moment and I think that was the difference.”
Oakland Mills nearly issued a knock-out punch in the third quarter, as Long and Dent again caught fire. The two combined for the Scorpions first 12 points of the half and then Willis added back-to-back threes to open up the game’s first double-digit lead.
It turned out to be short-lived, though, as Calvert again answered. This time it was a 9-0 run in less than two minutes to make it a one-possession game.
Oakland Mills never led by more than six points the rest of the way, eventually finding itself trading leads with the Cavaliers during the middle part of the fourth quarter.
The game was tied at 64 with 1:47 left on the clock when Long converted a three-point play to put the Scorpions up three. Those, however, ended up being the team’s final points of the evening.
Oakland Mills missed the front-end of two one-and-ones in the final minute, while Calvert's Hunter made both of his attempts with 37 seconds left. A missed free throw by Nekhi Bradley (9 points), gave Calvert a chance to set up the game-winner.
“We played as hard as we could all game, but all I can think about now are those free throws,” said Long, who missed the first of the final two one-and-ones. “We had our opportunities to knock them down, put the game away, and we didn’t do it.”
On the winning play, after Calvert called timeout, Hunter got the ball and penetrated down the right side of the lane. When he was cut off, he kicked to Thomas in the corner for the shot from beyond the arc.
“We were so concerned with (Hunter) and his penetration, which was killing us all night, that we helped and left the kid wide open,” Browne said. “He let it go, the ball was in the air for like an hour and it bottomed out … devastating.”
Sitting in the locker room after the players had left for the night, Browne tried to put it all in perspective.
“It’s tough to be a 16- or 17-year-old and having to try and put a school and a community on your back, then to see it all end like this,” Browne said. “Those kids are going to be hurting for awhile after this one, but that’s a great group of guys. Their best days are ahead of them, as hard as that may be to realize right now.”
Calvert 69, Oakland Mills 67
C (19-6): Smith 23, Hunter 20, Thomas 17, Upton 5, Gantt 4.
OM (24-1): Long 25, Dent 16, Willis 15, Bradley 9, Zayatz 2.
Half: 33-32 C.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun