COLLEGE PARK — Going into Friday's Class 1A state semifinal, Edmondson boys basketball coach Darnell Dantzler compared his team's opponent, Central-PG, to many of the teams that play in Baltimore City.
And while the Falcons were indeed tough and scrappy, his Red Storm was the same — and bigger.
No. 6 Edmondson took control of a close game with strong play inside at both ends, coming away with a sturdy 51-46 win over Central at University of Maryland's Comcast Center. The Red Storm advance to Saturday's Class 1A title game at 1 p.m.
Forward Robert McClain, a 6-foot-5 junior, came off the bench to score 16 points and add nine rebounds, while 6-7 junior forward Kani Coles had 11 points and 15 rebounds and blocked three shots.
"Coach [Dantzler] told me he was going to need me to step up, that the whole team had to because it's not one man that's going to win this game," McClain said. "So as a player coming off the bench, it was my opportunity to step up as best I could, and I had a pretty good game."
After capturing the program's first state crown in Class 2A last year, Edmondson (19-5) will try to make it two straight titles when it takes on Allegany, an 86-57 winner over Crisfield in Friday's other semifinal.
Leading 38-35 going into the fourth quarter, the Red Storm got a three-point play and four straight inside baskets from McClain to take a 49-40lead with 2:26 to play. But the Falcons (16-8) made it a one-possession game, 49-46, and had the ball with 15 seconds left.
The team's leading scorer, Davon Taylor, put up a 3-pointer with seven second left that was off the mark, and Coles blocked the follow try, grabbed the rebound and was fouled in the final second. He hit both free throws to secure the win.
The Red Storm, which came away with another tightly contested win against Baltimore City rival Lake Clifton, 55-49, to get out of the South region, is playing at its best when it matters most.
"Obviously, it's Baltimore City basketball — we're battle-tested playing ... the real good city teams, so we've been in the close games," Dantzler said.
The Falcons came in averaging nearly 80 points a game with an up-tempo style led by their talented guards, but Edmondson slowed them down with an effective zone defense and its length inside.
The first half was tight throughout, and mostly dominated by defense, with six ties and six lead changes.
Tied at 21 late in the second quarter, the Red Storm went on an 8-0 run when reserve Dezhan Harris-Jones made a 3-pointer, followed by Chaz Lassiter converting a nifty three-point play with a hard drive to the basket in transition before Coles scored inside for a 29-21 lead with 40 seconds to play.
But the Falcons made good use of the final seconds of the half, getting a follow basket from Taylor with 21 seconds left and then a 3-pointer from Dequan Smith (16 points) at the buzzer to cut Edmondson's lead to 29-26 at the break.
The Red Storm built another lead in the third quarter after senior guard Sean Burke hit a 3-pointer and Coles scored inside to make it 38-31 with 3:06 left, but the Falcons came back when Gary Stewart made a 3-pointer and free throw to cut the lead to 38-35 going into the fourth. Central struggled at the line, making only 15 of 31 attempts.
Class 4A state semifinals
(at Comcast Center)
No. 6 Edmondson 51, Central-PG 46
C – Smith 16, Brown 8, Taylor 7, Pettiway 2, Stewart 11, Winbush 2. Totals: 17 15-31 46
E – Burke 8, Garrett 4, Coles 11, Lassiter 7, McClain 16, Harris-Jones 5. Totals: 24 6-10 51
Half: E, 29-26