Each of the last few seasons has represented a steady progression for the Archbishop Curley boys basketball team — from making the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B quarterfinals in 2018 to an appearance in the conference semifinals last winter.
On Thursday, courtesy of a convincing 64-35 victory over visiting Chapelgate, the Friars took that next step by earning themselves a spot in the MIAA B conference final and a shot at the program’s first title since the 2000-01 season.
“Tonight was the culmination of all their hard work, starting with the preparation in the offseason, and knowing that they’ve had this goal in mind,” Curley head coach Darnell Hopkins said. “Last year was kind of bittersweet, losing [to Gerstell] around this exact same time in the semifinals. But we sat in the locker room and talked about thanking God for the opportunity and about how we were going to stick together and allow that experience to make us stronger.”
Archbishop Curley (22-6), which came into this year’s B tournament as the top seed after posting a 12-2 conference record during the regular season, certainly looked like a dialed in group right from the tip against Chapelgate.
The Friars raced out to an 8-0 advantage in the first three minutes, a run that was punctuated by an emphatic dunk from senior Dalyn Brandon (13 points). But that was just the beginning for Curley, which pushed its advantage to 15-0 by the end of the first quarter.
“I think last year helped us come into today with that sense of urgency,” Brandon said. “We came out here thinking about unfinished business and how important it was going to be to bring energy right from the start of the game.”
Made 3-pointers by Niyon Carroll (9 points) and Dinari Boykin pushed the lead to 21 points early in the second quarter. But for as good as the offense was, Hopkins was even more pleased with the team’s effort defensively.
Chapelgate (15-18) failed to score a single field goal during the first 10 minutes of the game. The first points for the Yellowjackets, courtesy of a foul shot by Zach Knox (team-high 13 points), didn’t come until there was 6:03 left in the first half.
“Monday and Tuesday of this week, we did nothing but defensive concepts … all the little things that add up to winning games like this,” Hopkins said. “Our offense all year has been speaking for itself, but it’s the defense — even in our wins — that has needed to be more polished. Tonight we saw the outcome of all that defensive work we’ve done.”
Chapelgate settled in a little in the closing minutes of the second quarter, trimming its deficit to 18, 28-10, at intermission. The Friars’ lead was down to 17, 32-15, three minutes into the second half before they turned things up to another gear once again.
This time it was senior Caleb Johnson, who finished with a game-high 16 points, that led the charge. Johnson made a series of layups and then a back-breaking 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter that helped Curley put the game away.
The Friars led by as many as 34 points in the final period, winning the game going away.
“Coach talked at halftime about playing like it was 0-0. We wanted to keep our foot on their neck and not let up,” Johnson said.
Josh Knapp also finished in double figures scoring with 11 points in the winning effort.
Curley advances to the B Conference Championship game Sunday at 3 p.m. at Harford Community College against St. Johns Catholic Prep. The Vikings last won the B Conference title during the 2015-16 season.
For the Friars, though, they were adamant afterward that the game plan on the big stage doesn’t change.
“We’re not going to let any of the outside factors get to us … it’s all about staying focused on the things that got us here,” Brandon said. “This has been the goal all year, now we just need one more win.”
Archbishop Curley 64, Chapelgate 35
AC (22-6): Johnson 16, Brandon 13, Knapp 11, Carroll 9, Odom Lee 6, Boykin 5, Brown 2, Walter 2.
CCA (15-18): Knox 13, Felder 8, Praylow 6, Richards 4, Hamilton 2, Mitchell 2.