Two boys basketball teams on streaks going in different directions met at Catonsville High on Wednesday night and the host Comets (3-11) extended their winning streak to three games with a 65-61 victory over Towson (3-7).
“I challenged the kids,” Catonsville coach Dennis Keihm said. “We talked about the first thing to being a successful team is we’ve got to defend our home court. We are not going to win on the road if we can’t win at home and they played really hard.”
Towson dropped its fourth consecutive game, but they rallied in the second half to make it interesting.
Trailing 35-24 at halftime, the Generals rallied and tied it at 52-52 with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter on a soft floater by James Dugan (16 points).
Catonsville’s KJ Spruill (game-high 25 points) pushed the Comets ahead 53-52 with a free throw with 5:35 left and a layup by Deshawn Dixon (14 points) made it 55-52 with 5:11 remaining.
Eight seconds later, Dugan scored again and it was 55-54.
Dixon’s free throw extended the lead and Spruill hit his only three-pointer after Ben Hall fed him at the top of the key.
That made it 59-54 with 4:07 left and a free throw by Khali Davis upped the lead to 60-54 with 3:43 left, but the Generals refused to wilt.
A basket by Kaire Trotty (11 points) and a 3-pointer by Christian Johnson (16 points), off a Dugan assist, pulled the Generals within one, 60-59, with 1:12 left to play.
That’s when one of the Comets weaknesses — at the free-throw line — turned into a strength.
Spruill made two with 54.4 seconds left and the lead was 62-59.
But a big offensive rebound by Dugan led to two free throws by Johnson with 11 seconds left, cutting the deficit to one.
Hall, who had kept a critical possession alive for the Comets in the final minute by diving to the floor to salvage a jump ball and possession for the home team, was fouled and he knocked down two free throws with 11 seconds left to make it 64-61.
Johnson’s three-pointer with five seconds left was short and Catonsville’s Dixon got the rebound and was fouled. He iced it by making the second of two free throws.
Spruill has seen his team squander leads down the stretch in losses to Harford Tech and Lansdowne, in overtime, but this time they prevailed.
“We kept our heads up, and we knew if we handled the pressure, we had this game,” Spruill said.
Keihm was impressed with his whole team’s effort.
“We had a lot of kids that played well, obviously KJ and Deshawn Dixon, who is just a silent warrior,” said Keihm, who gave Dixon the assignment of guarding the Generals top scoring threat.
“He (Dugan) is a really good player and I put Ty (Tiree) Holmes on him right from the get go in man-to-man and Ty was giving up 20 pounds and about four inches and Ty accepted the challenge and played really well for us.”
Dugan had eight points in each half and Towson coach Ryan Holzman wanted to see him get a chance in crunch time.
“He’s a great player and it is disappointing that he didn’t have a chance to win the game,” Holzman said.
The coach did welcome increased action from senior forward Akosa Nwadiogbu, who was playing in his second game back after suffering a separated shoulder.
Holzman hopes to have his squad in synch by playoff time.
“The season hasn’t gone exactly the way we wanted by any stretch,” he said. “Part of me thinks it’s better for my team to have this chip on our shoulder. We wanted this year to be the best year ever and we lost a buzzer beater to Hereford and we just haven’t been able to get around that.”
The buzzer-beater was a 41-40 loss in the season opener on Dec. 7.
Keihm, in his first season as Catonsville’s head coach, likes the way his squad turned it around in consecutive wins over Eastern Tech, Western Tech and Towson.
“We are coming,” Keihm said. “In the beginning of year, it was a little rough, but we are not where we want to be, but we are headed in the right direction.”
He still knows one thing needs to improve as the playoffs near.
“We are getting better,” he said. “We still aren’t making our free throws, so we make it hard on ourselves.”
That changed in the final minute against Towson.
KJ Spruill 25, Dashawn Dixon 14, Tiree Holmes 13, Ben Hall 7, Khali Davis 4, Devin Hunt 2.
James Dugan 16, Christian Johnson 16, Kaire Trotty 11, Ian O’Malley 8, Akosa Nwadiogbu 5, Glenn Young 3, Milo Fisher 2.