COLLEGE PARK -- With 26 consecutive wins behind it and just nine seconds ahead in a masterful season, the No. 1 City boys basketball team was finally able to celebrate.
The Knights’ work was complete against pesky Westlake in the Class 3A state final, and coach Daryl Wade removed his starters for the final ticks so they could savor what was about to come — the final buzzer, and a final score: City 59, Westlake, 48.
The team’s goals going into the season were winning Baltimore City and state championships. But as the wins kept piling up, a perfect season became another objective, one that was accomplished with an unblemished, 27-0 record.
“It’s a great feeling coming out of the game and watching the clock run down,” senior guard Kamau Stokes said. “It’s our last year and everybody’s dream, I’m pretty sure, is to go undefeated or at least win a state title. We have two of them on our plate.”
City, which enjoyed back-to-back perfect seasons in 1965-66 and 1966-67, is the first area team to go undefeated since Lake Clifton went 28-0 in 2008-09 and won the Class 3A crown.
The Knights got 16 points from senior guard Timmy Bond, who made all four of his 3-point tries, including a pivotal one to start the fourth quarter. Fellow senior Omari George attacked the basket and the boards, finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Stokes hit two key baskets in the closing minutes to finish with 13 points.
The championship didn’t come easy against Westlake, which knocked out defending champion and fourth-ranked Milford Mill in the semifinals.
The Knights built a 12-point lead late in the first half, only to see the Wolverines (22-5) rally with a strong third quarter to take a 43-41 lead going into the fourth.
Bond, who was out for much of the third with three fouls, then picked up where he left off in the first half. He opened the fourth quarter with a brash 3-pointer in the left corner that gave the Knights the lead back at 44-43 and, more importantly, set the tone for the rest of the game.
There were still anxious moments and slim leads later, but Stokes took care of that. Up 48-46 with 4:11 to play, the Knights stayed patient with the ball until he found an opening for a driving layup to make City’s lead 50-46 with 1:41 left. He scored in transition to make it 52-46 with 1:15 left, and the Knights closed the game out on the free throw line.
“I’m really excited,” Wade said. “I think we struggled for a while, but the young fellas came through. It was a great season, a great way to finish the season … and we’re 27-0.”
Bond, who struggled offensively in the Knights’ semifinal win over Urbana on Thursday, came back to Comcast Center on Saturday with a clear head and the confidence needed to knock down big shots. None was bigger than the 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter.
“It was a mental thing. I had one of my worse games of the season [on Thursday],” he said. “I got a lot of motivational texts from my teammates and coaches, and they told me to stay strong and be confident with my shot. So, I was confident throughout the game and let it fly.”
With the championship plaque within arm’s length shortly after the game, George was searching for words to describe the feeling.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Honestly, I’m really laid back right now. I don’t think it hit me yet, and I’m just in shock. I know it’s going to hit me later, and I’m going to go crazy.”
Bond and George were both three-year starters who laid down the foundation for success. Last season, twin brothers John and Juwan Grant, both 6 feet 6 inches tall, transferred to City and provided strong inside play, while senior guard Aaron Williams and junior guard Blair Davis began to emerge.
Stokes, who captured a state title with Dunbar last season, joined the team this season to add big-time scoring and confidence.
Class 3A state finals
(at Comcast Center)
No. 1 City 59, Westlake 48
C – Jo. Grant 6, George 15, Bond 16, Ju. Grant 5, Stokes 13, Davis 4 . Totals: 16 21-31 59
W – Alston 6, Espeleta 7, Wiseman 8, Craft 10, Johnson 8, Perry 4, Jarvis 3, Stanford 2. Totals: 17 9-16 48.
Half: C, 32-25