In a tie game with just over four minutes to go in Friday’s 2A South region final against Oakland Mills, Thomas Stone forward Gary Grant looked up at the scoreboard and knew exactly what had to be done.
The Cougars’ senior forward, drawing motivation from the pain of falling short in last year’s region championship contest against River Hill, said it was “winning time.”
Grant proceeded to rattle off nine straight points over a three-minute span, building an insurmountable advantage for Thomas Stone on the way to a 69-60 victory and the program’s first region title since 2012.
“That loss last year, I’ve thought about that every single day. From the moment we got on that bus to come back home, through tryouts and every time we stepped on the floor, the motivation has been to never have to feel that feeling again,” said Grant, who finished with a game-high 30 points. “So in that fourth quarter today, I knew it was on me as a senior to make it happen. No way I was ready to go home.”
Grant’s late heroics — along with some made foul shots in the final minute from Ervin Locke, Kevin Skidmore and Kire Hines — was just enough for Thomas Stone (22-4) to hold off an Oakland Mills (19-6) squad that was led by 25 points from Daeshawn Eaton.
The Scorpions held leads of 21-18 at the end of the first quarter and 39-38 at the half, and never trailed by more than six points at any point during the opening three periods. But, in the end, Oakland Mills simply didn’t have an answer for the Cougars’ muscular force on the interior.
“At the end of the day, [Grant] is a man-child and we had nothing for him … he’s just too big, too strong and too talented,” Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. “At 56-56, we still weren’t playing great and I was pretty happy. But we turned the ball over a few times and then they got second-chance opportunities, when we actually had a good defensive stand … we just didn’t have enough gas in our tank tonight.”
Thomas Stone advances into a 2A state semifinal match-up against Patterson on March 15 at the Xfinity Center on the campus of the University of Maryland.
Cougars’ coach Dale Lamberth echoed the sentiment that the run this year has been fueled by past results, particularly the 61-51 loss to the Hawks a year earlier, that have served to strengthen the team’s resolve.
“That game at River Hill last year, that haunted a lot of us — especially Gary and Kevin Skidmore who have been with me since ninth grade. So for us three, we knew we let one slip away and if the opportunity came back around again we were going to be ready for it,” Lamberth said. “All year we achieved each of our little goals, and pretty soon we started to realize they were all attainable. Today, we achieved one of the biggest ones.”
Despite a three-hour bus trip and arriving just 40 minutes before game time, Oakland Mills came out firing. The Scorpions got a layup from Eaton off the opening tip and proceeded to build a 15-5 advantage in the first three minutes.
“To come out with that energy, I was like ‘Wow, the bus ride didn’t effect us.’ I was very happy … we were running our stuff and got good pressure in the backcourt,” Browne said.
But the Cougars settled in after that by putting together a quick 7-0 run that was punctuated by a fast-break dunk from Grant. Just over a minute into the second quarter, Thomas Stone had come all the way back to take the team’s first lead of the game, 22-21.
Shawn Barclay (13 points) played a big role in the comeback by converting layups and making jumpers, to go along with cleaning up things on the glass.
From that point on, there ended up being seven lead changes and three ties between the early stages of the second quarter and middle of the fourth. It was a 3-pointer by Oakland Mills’ Truth Norton (13 points) with 4:36 remaining that knotted up the score at 56-56.
That, however, is when Grant took over to decide the outcome of the game and Lamberth said he was thrilled with the way his group answered every challenge Oakland Mills threw at them.
“We talk all the time about runs and how the only thing that matters is how you respond to it,” he said. “They never flinched.”
Thomas Stone 69, Oakland Mills 60
TS (22-4): Grant 30, Barclay 13, Wilkes 7, Wilson 6, J’Shawn 4, Skidmore 4, Locke 3, Hines 2.
OM (19-6): Eaton 25, Norton 13, Simpson 11, Riggs 5, Evans 4, Eiland 2.
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Half: 39-38 OM.