On its home floor and in front of its classmates and families, the C. Milton Wright Mustangs boys basketball team outlasted the Woodlawn Warriors, 53-46, Friday to take home the Class 3A North Regional Championship.
The Mustangs will meet Poly in a Class 3A state semifinal on Thursday at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center. Game time is 3 p.m.
Boisterous supporters of both schools created a palpable atmosphere worthy of a championship game as the oscillation of emotion from the two fanbases reflected the back and forth nature of what was a rugged, physical game.
Of course, given that both C. Milton Wright (20-5, 11-1 in UCBAC) and Woodlawn (14-10, 6-4 in Baltimore County Division II) entered play allowing fewer than 55 points per game, the final tally should have surprised no one.
Though both sides missed their fair share of layups and open threes, each team made timely rotations in their respective zone defenses to contest most shots and make life difficult for the opponent.
Throughout the game, the Mustangs used their size advantage underneath with senior forward Brye Hopkins and junior center Corey Patterson, especially in the first quarter when the offense ran through them.
“We knew we had the height advantage versus [Woodlawn] so we had to use that to our advantage,” Hopkins said. “We did the best we could to capitalize on that.”
The strategy worked; Patterson and Hopkins combined to score the Mustangs’ first six points and they were responsible for eight of the team’s 10 points in the opening period. This helped alleviate the pressure on the backcourt and it allowed the Mustangs to hit some big shots from the outside later in the game.
“We’ve talked about that all season,” C. Milton Wright head coach Jon Stefanides said. “If you can get it inside, it does open things up cause everyone’s gonna start sagging in a little and it frees up our 3-point shooters.”
But Woodlawn didn’t go away. The Warriors struggled early on with turnovers — some forced, some the result of carelessness — but they used their quickness advantage and wealth of aggressive guards to harass the Mustangs on many occasions, particularly towards the end of the first and into the second quarter.
They also received a boost from senior forward Khamal Campbell, who entered the game late in the first quarter and immediately rattled in a 3-pointer from the right wing to give Woodlawn a 12-10 lead after one.
That trey sparked a 9-0 run for Woodlawn that bled into the second quarter, which saw Campbell also score the first four points for the Warriors to open that period.
But in what became the story of the game, the Woodlawn lead didn’t last. The Warriors played keep away for awhile, especially when Warriors head coach Bobby Richardson had his team employ a full court press midway through the second to further pester the Mustangs’ guards.
The change paid off for a while, but the Mustangs continued to lean on their veteran front court, particularly Hopkins, who gave his team a 22-21 lead after grabbing his own missed free throw — he received a one-and-one chance following a loose ball foul that put Woodlawn over the foul limit — and drove to the basket for the uncontested layup, though the Warriors regained the lead shortly after that.
Both teams swapped the lead some more in the third quarter, but it would be the final frame where CMW began to pull away. A particular turning point came around the 7:30 mark of the quarter, where the referee seemingly missed a carry by Mustangs junior guard Bryan Steimke prior to him drawing a foul. Steimke made both free throws shortly after to tie the game at 35. Roughly a minute later, senior guard Jalen Jackson banked in a layup to give CMW a 37-35 advantage, a lead that they didn’t relinquish for the rest of the game thanks to a subsequent 7-0 run by the Mustangs.
“They gained momentum in the second half,” Richardson said. “We were ahead playing cat and mouse all night and a game of this magnitude and this crucial, a four- or five-point lead is huge and they got a seven-point lead and forced us to scramble.”
Woodlawn continued to fight to the end, as they once again turned things up a notch with their full court trapping defense and got as close as four with 33 seconds left, but once Patterson finished a layup off the glass — following the Mustangs breaking down Woodlawn’s press — and knocked down the ensuing free throw with 20.1 seconds left, it all but clinched the title for the home team.