John Carroll senior guard Montez Mathis caught the eye of his coach, John Zito, and clinched his fist, showing a mix of happiness and relief.
The next time down the floor, fellow senior guard Immanuel Quickley hit two closing free throws and smiled.
That the exhausted emotions didn’t come until the final seconds of overtime in Sunday’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game was a credit to the Patriots’ determined opponent, Boys’ Latin.
In the end, though, No. 3 John Carroll was able to overcome surrendering a 17-point second-half lead and the drastic momentum change that came with it to claim a 58-50 overtime win over the No. 6 Lakers at packed APGFCU Arena on the campus of Harford Community College in Bel Air.
Quickley, Mathis and junior forward Yavuz Gultekin took turns taking control in overtime as the Patriots (28-7) captured the program’s third MIAA A crown and first since 2012.
With the game tied at 46 going into overtime, Mathis (15 points) gave the Patriots the lead for good with a strong drive to the basket. Gultekin (16 points) hit two free throws and got to the basket for another two. And then Mathis and Quickley (game-high 20 points) each hit two free in the final 40 seconds to finally shake the Lakers.
The Patriots had been there before and not long ago — needing a basket at the buzzer to beat No. 2 Mount Saint Joseph in Thursday night’s semifinal. The experience and resilience showed up big in the extra time Sunday.
“Man, this team is tough — this team is so tough,” said Quickley, the Kentucky-bound McDonald’s All American who has been a staple on the All-Metro team since his sophomore year. “I’m so proud of my guys and credit Boys’ Latin — they’re a great team. But, wow, I’m just happy right now.”
The assignment for the Patriots in the late minutes was difficult. They had beaten Boys’ Latin twice handily during the regular season and then seemed in complete control when they went on a 13-0 run to start the second half that would build into their biggest lead at 33-16 lead with 4:41 to play in the third quarter.
Even after Mathis scored on a drive to make it 44-33 with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots appeared poised to bring home the championship.
But the upstart Lakers (25-7) never stopped believing. They had claimed a handful of close wins throughout the season and were fueled by a victory at No. 1 St. Frances in Thursday’s semifinals.
Behind senior Jaylin Andrews (16 points), they went on an improbable 13-0 run, and after he hit a deep 3-pointer with 1:24 to play, they had their first lead since the first quarter at 46-44.
The Patriots needed clutch stops and one made free throw from Quickley and another from Gultekin to send the game into overtime.
Zito didn’t have to say much as the Patriots prepared to answer the overtime challenge — making note of Thursday’s success under pressure: “I just said: ‘We’ve been here, we’ve been through this already.’ ”
The Rutgers-bound Mathis, who lost an MIAA A championship game when he played for Mount Carmel as a freshman, wasn’t going to let another chance slip away.
“We just stuck together and never panicked. They went on their run and we just told each other to stay together and keep fighting.”
The Lakers didn’t have one of their better shooting nights, but they made up for it with effort and heart against the bigger and more talented Patriots. Cameron Spencer kept them close — finishing with 14 points before fouling out in overtime. Andrews, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer this season, scored 13 of his points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s typical of what the kids did all year,” Boys’ Latin coach Cliff Rees said. “They made some incredible plays to fight back, and to get the game into overtime was amazing. I’m just very proud of the group.”
BL—Spencer 14, Watts 5, Andrews 16, Lewis 9, Bates 6. Totals: 16 14-15 50
JC—Quickley 20, Mathis 15, Gultekin 16, Ismail 1, Craig 3, Byers 3. Totals: 19 19-27 58
Half: John Carroll 20-16 Regulation: 46-46