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Commentary: Low-scoring basketball becoming a county trend

Friday night's playoff boys basketball game between Winters Mill and South Carroll had just about everything except, um, what was it?

Oh that's right. Made baskets.

For long, long stretches.

The Cavaliers didn't score for the first five minutes, 40 seconds of the game. When they finally did, they trailed only 4-2. The teams combined to make two baskets over the first 4:38 of the second quarter. And it took 3:47 for either team to register a field goal in the third quarter.

It all set up a thrilling finish, with the teams going back and forth to make four consecutive shots in the final 35 seconds as the Cavs tied it, the Falcons went back ahead, the Cavs tied it again and the Falcons finally won it on a Joe Sands 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Before the fantastic final sequence, however, scoring was at a serious premium. Meaning it was like most county basketball games this year.

Teams are scoring in the 40s and 50s like it's, well, the Forties or Fifties.

Carroll teams averaged almost exactly 50 points per game this season, with four below that number and four above it. Manchester Valley has been the highest-scoring county team at 55.7 per game.

All those numbers are lower in county play, however, where a team was more than twice as likely to score 45 points or below (50 times) than 60 points or above (23 times).

It's not that the level of play is bad. Far from it. Carroll teams are making more regular appearances in the state tournament than ever before and it would not be a surprise to see one or two of them playing at Comcast Center again this year.

South Carroll and Winters Mill are a combined 30-16 this season with three of the losses coming to each other. But they found themselves in what two different Falcons referred to as a "slugfest" because that's what officials allow.

That's one of the big reasons for the decline in scoring. Coaches place a major emphasis on playing good, physical defense and officials generally allow too much good, physical defense. Scoring is also down because of the universal love for the 3-point shot, which has resulted in the disappearance of the mid-range jumper and a lack of incentive for getting the ball inside.

In Carroll, scoring is down a bit this year simply because all but one first-team all-countian and all but three second-teamers from a year ago graduated. There simply aren't a lot of great shooters.

And, with 14 of 22 regular-season games against Carroll competition, familiarity breeds low-scoring games.

"Truthfully, there's some really good coaches in this area ... you're not going to trick them," said WM coach Dave Herman on Friday. "They scout the heck out of you and they know everything about everybody."

It wasn't that long ago, in 2001, that Marshall Strickland (30.5) and Jon-David Byers (27.0) averaged more points between the two of them than any entire team averaged this year. That's a little bit of an unfair comparison considering those are probably two of the five best players ever to lace 'em up in Carroll, so let's pick some random years.

Twenty years ago, four of the five county teams averaged 53 points or more in county games. And overall they put up some numbers that are unheard of today. The five Carroll teams exceeded 60 points 58 times - basically, in every other game - with nine instances of scoring 70-79 points, six of 80-89 and one over 90.

Ten years ago, during the 2003-04 season, every Carroll team averaged 50 points or better in county games, with Century, Liberty and Westminster all well over 60. And overall, four teams reached 60 points at least 10 times each with a total of 20 instances of 70-79 points.

This season, no team has gotten to 60 points as many as 10 times. Seventy has been reached just six times, and only twice in county games.

Scoring isn't just down in this area, of course. It's dropped on an annual basis in college basketball, bottoming out last season at a Division I all-time low as teams averaged just 67.5 points per game.

To combat the problem of low-scoring (read: dull) games, the NCAA changed some rules, mandating foul calls for hand-checking and arm bars.

If only there was some sort of rule that could be implemented in high school to encourage scoring.

Oh, that's right. They could implement a shot clock as rules-makers have in Maryland high school girls games, and all college games, and NBA games, and pretty much every basketball game you'll ever watch except for boys high school games in this state.

Teams can simply pass the ball around for as long as they like. It's great for teams with only one or two good players, because coaches can run set plays for their star and if it doesn't result in an easy shot, what difference does it make? Get the ball back up top and run something else. We've got all day here.

Can you imagine if there was no play clock in football and the quarterback could just bark out signals for the final few minutes of a game? Or if a pitcher could just stand on the mound, staring in at the catcher until darkness ended the baseball game?

Friday night's Winters Mill-South Carroll game was intense and physical and a fun watch in its own way, but it was also quite methodical. A lot of possessions lasting far longer than the 30 seconds high school girls have before they can shoot.

Each team had the ball just 24 times in the first half, getting up only 39 shots. (Hence, a 21-14 halftime score).

A funny thing happened at the end, though. It was a close game. It was getting late. There was no time to waste.

So SC's Doug Pickett tied it with a putback with 35 seconds to go. Then WM's Keith Claiborne scored on a go-ahead jumper with 18 seconds left. Logan Cook re-tied it by driving the lane with six seconds left. Then, in a frantic final few seconds, the Falcons got the ball upcourt and Sands hit a 3-pointer he'll never forget.

Even though Sands was several feet behind the 3-point arc, it was actually an easier shot than what the Falcons had attempted most of the game against South Carroll and its defensive-minded coach Doug Goff, whose team has routinely held its opposition below 40 points over a phenomenally successful six-year run that included three region titles.

So, yes, good defense most definitely wins. But it's not nearly as much fun to watch as good offense. Heck, any offense.

Those last 35 seconds on Friday were easily the best of the game, maybe of the season. Yes, because of the drama. Yes, because of the intensity. Yes, because of the stakes.

But also because the players were simply running up and down the court making plays, the way basketball was meant to be played.

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