Not much was going right for the No. 3 New Town boys basketball team in the first three quarters of Wednesday's Class 3A North Section II title game against visiting Randallstown, a combination of poor execution by the Titans and strong play by the Rams.
But it was nothing that quality fourth-quarter defense couldn't take care of.
New Town limited Randallstown to one field goal in the deciding quarter, which didn't come until 25 seconds remained in the game. By then, the Titans had erased the seven-point deficit they faced going into the fourth to grind out a 50-42 win.
New Town (21-2), Baltimore County champion and last year's Class 1A champion, will host No. 10 Dunbar — a 64-43 winner over Carver — for the region title at 6 p.m. Friday. Senior guard Devin Smith scored a game-high 15 points and fellow senior Matthew Johnson added 12.
Randallstown, which got 13 points from Sterling Hughes, finishes 13-11.
Trailing 38-31 going into the fourth quarter, the Titans outscored the Rams 19-4 with Tykei Ferrell's short jumper giving them a 41-40 lead with 4:11 to play. It was their first lead since midway through the first quarter and it held, with Rashad Faust adding a layup and the team sinking seven of 10 free throws in the final 1:22.
"We just told them they had to settle down and play, and stop complaining, and let's get it done. We had to defend better and that's exactly what we did. Defensively we took it up a notch," New Town coach Mike Daniel said. "We might not do it pretty, but we get it done. And that's all I ask the guys — to defend, defend and defend, and we've got a shot at winning every game."
In the first half, it was the Titans who struggled to make baskets, aiming poorly and committing careless turnovers. They managed only five field goals in the first half, but the Rams could only produce a 24-18 halftime lead.
Smith got going in the third quarter with three 3-pointers, but the Rams had answers. With their lead cut to 32-31, Hughes converted a three-point play with 22 seconds left and then nailed a 3-pointer near the buzzer to provide Randallstown with its biggest lead at 38-31.
The Titans overwhelmed on defense the rest of the way, blocking shots, trapping the Rams into turnovers and forcing poor shots. Needing to win or go home, the Titans responded.
"I don't know what it is, but in the first half we always come out a little flat and then we always come back in the second half playing great defense and getting on the run," Smith said. "We just didn't want our season to end."