In addition to its challenging Baltimore City league slate, the Patterson boys basketball team took to the road this season, playing a national schedule that included stops in Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee.
It was all intended to prepare the No. 5 Clippers for games like the one they played at No. 1 Milford Mill in Saturday's Class 3A North region title game.
Suddenly trailing by nine points in the final minute of the third quarter, the Clippers scored 12 straight to climb back in the game and then did all the big and little things needed from that point on to pull out a thrilling 75-72 win over the two-time defending Class 3A state champion Millers.
Junior guard Aquille Carr scored 11 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter — including an and-one dunk that completed the 12-0 run — and junior forward Myrek Lee-Fowlkes added 16 points and nine rebounds. The Clippers, who were a Class 4A state finalist last year, improved to 19-7 and will face Tuscarora in Thursday's state semifinal set for 5 p.m. at the Comcast Center.
After Milford Mill senior forward Katrell Myers hit two free throws with 3:23 to play, tying the game for the sixth time in the fourth quarter at 67, the Clippers got baskets from Lee-Fowlkes and Carr, and a free throw by Shakir Brown to take a 72-67 lead with 1:44 left. The Millers would get as close as one point, but no closer. Down 75-72 with four seconds left, Devonte Williams had a clean look at a 3-pointer that went in and out and, after Lee-Fowlkes missed two free throws with 1.5 seconds left, Bruce Watkins had a desperation heave past midcourt that fell short.
"In the fourth quarter, I knew I had to turn it on and take it over for my team. I had to get in the lane, make open shots, and kick it to my open teammates to hit shots," said Carr, who also finished with nine assists. "We've been playing everywhere, so we know we stay together as a family, and when we break the huddle and say 'family' we know we really mean it. Once we go on the court, we're going to fight for each other."
Milford Mill, which had four players in double figures, finishes the season 21-3. Senior guard Chase Cormier, who missed important minutes midway through the fourth quarter after chipping a tooth, led the Millers with 16 points.
After the Clippers jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, the Millers settled in, and the first half stayed close. Coming out of a 36-36 tie at halftime, the Millers got their transition game going in the third quarter to build a 53-44 lead when Kyle Thomas (11 points) followed on a miss with 1:01 left.
The Clippers weren't fazed, making the most of the final minute to once again pull close.
Carr nailed a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left in the quarter, then Lee-Fowlkes hit another with 14 seconds left to trim the Millers lead to 53-50.
After Lee-Fowlkes connected on another 3 on the Clippers' opening possession of the fourth quarter, Carr had a steal at midcourt and fiercely challenged a defender at the basket. Carr's dunk came back above the rim slightly before falling. When he converted the ensuing free throw, the Clippers had scored 12 points in a span of 1:03 to take a 56-53 lead.
"A couple of mental mistakes, going for steals when we shouldn't have been going for steals — just mental breakdowns," Milford Mill coach Albert Holley said. "When you let a team that can score points score like that, they get their momentum and they get their thing rolling again and you end up having a hard time stopping that."
After shaking hands and watching the Clippers accept the regional championship plaque, the Millers remained on their bench with their faces showing extreme disappointment.
"It was a great high school basketball game," Holley said. "We were happy to be a part of the moment and a part of the event. Obviously, we wished it would have went our way, but at the end of the day, these boys gave us everything they had and they have nothing to hang their heads about. It was a great season and they gave their hearts."
Class 3A North championship
No. 5 Patterson 75, No. 1 Milford Mill 72
P – Carr 31, Lee-Fowlkes 16, Brown 10, Hebron 8, Oliver 6, Brooks 2, Livingston 2. Totals: 26 16-30 75 MM – Miles 13, Thomas 11, Cormier 16, Watkins 10, Wilson 1, Myers 12, Smith 6, Lee 3. Totals: 29 21-36 72. Half: 36-36