There was still an entire half to play and it was only one shot, but Stephen Decatur coach B.J. Johnson knew right away it meant so much more than that.
As time expired at the end of a second-quarter where Wilde Lake had nearly come all the way back from an early 14-point deficit in the 3A East region finals, the Seahawks’ Kevon Voyles calmly pulled up from beyond the 3-point line and buried a dagger that helped his team steal back the momentum.
While the visiting Wildecats never surrendered in the second half, they also never fully recovered from that late basket as Stephen Decatur (25-1) hung on down the stretch for a 65-55 victory and the program’s second straight trip to the 3A state semifinals.
“I actually told the guys at halftime, that shot is the one that is going to win us this game. Wilde Lake is a really strong team, they gave us our toughest game so far in the playoffs and they played a great second quarter there, but I really felt like we had just taken their heart with that one,” Johnson said. “They never stopped fighting, but it just felt like it was our game after that.”
For Voyles, who finished with a game-high 19 points, the significance of that 3-pointer that made it 31-25 wasn’t lost on him either.
“It was a big momentum changer. I mean I could just feel the game swing in our direction,” said the Seahawks’ junior guard, who is in his second year with the program.
Wilde Lake (17-9) did get within three points once more early in the third quarter, following a foul shot from Nick David (15 points), but simply never managed to get over the hump. Stephen Decatur put together a 9-0 run toward the end of the period to help establish a 12-point advantage, 48-36, entering the fourth quarter.
From there, clutch efforts from the team’s seniors — including Gary Briddell (15 points) and Keve Aluma (13) — made sure that Wilde Lake never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“Our veteran players were the difference tonight … there was a sense of been there, done that when things got tight. They had that determination, knowing they didn’t want to lose this game,” Johnson said. “I had confidence the entire time that they were going to come up with the big plays when we needed them.”
On the other side, while his team fell short, Wilde Lake coach Deon Wingfield had nothing but praise for the heart his players showed in defeat. After falling behind by double digits early in the second quarter, the Wildecats clawed their way back.
In addition to David, Trea Keys (team-high 17 points) and Marquis Bullett (13) each played key roles in the team getting itself into a one-possession game by the late stages of the first half.
“I told my kids just now how proud I am of them that they never backed down, even as we fell behind early,” Wingfield said. “Once we settled down, realized that we were capable of playing with this team, we were able to get ourselves back into it. You could see that confidence grow and, although we fell short, the effort was there.”
While disappointed in the final outcome, Wingfield added that this was a big step for the program this year — especially with a strong young core returning next winter.
“This stings, but we have a great young nucleus and I’m hoping it makes them hungry,” Wingfield said. “And I thank our seniors so much for setting the bar. They have established now how the program is going to be and it’s up to the guys coming back to carry that torch.”
Stephen Decatur is now headed back to the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center for a state semifinal match-up against Baltimore-Poly on Thursday, March 9 at 3 p.m. Last year, the team made it to the state championship game before losing in overtime against C. Milton Wright.
Prior to that, the team had won just one region title in the previous 25 years.
“You know, there has been a lot of pressure on this group because everyone expected us to get back there and anything less than that was going to be a disappointment. And it’s not easy to win a region title, you just have to look at how long it had been before we did it last year,” Johnson said. “So we’re excited to be going back [to the state semifinals] and we know it’s going to be tough — there are some great teams left — but I believe in these guys.”
Stephen Decatur 65, Wilde Lake 55
SD (25-1): Voyles 19, Briddell 15, Aluma 13, Johnson 12, Frasier 4, Woodland 2.
WL (17-9): Keys 17, David 15, Bullett 13, Barnes 5, Joseph 5.
Half: 31-25 SD.