Saying farewell to the Panther Den at Annapolis last night, Laronja "Eke" Owens scored 32 points to lead the No. 4-ranked Panthers to a 72-48 romp over River Hill in the Class 3A East boys basketball semifinals.
Owens led a Panthers team that shot 55 percent (29-for-53).
It was the final home game for Owens, a 6-foot senior guard who ranks as one of the greatest players in Annapolis history.
A three-time All-County player, Owens was All-Metro and County Player of the Year last season, and is the second-leading scorer in school history and fifth on the Anne Arundel county career list.
"Of course, I'm going to miss this place, but it's ... I'll be all right," said Owens, trying not to get emotional.
The victory was the 23rd in a row for the Panthers (23-1), who advance to their second straight 3A East regional final. With one more home game than No. 2-seeded Friendly, Annapolis (the top seed) will be on the road at the Prince George's County school at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
According to Darius Johnson, who had 20 points and a game-high 10 boards, Owens told his teammates in the locker room before the game that he was "going to take over early."
And he did.
Owens lit up the Hawks (19-4) by scoring 24 of his points in the first half, 16 alone in the first quarter. His personal 8-0 run to close the first period gave Annapolis a 23-15 lead. That grew to 40-26 at halftime.
"We knew going in he was the Player of the Year in the county and knew everything revolved around him," said Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen.
"He's so tough, and when he penetrates, he's so strong and can body you up. He gets good position. He's inside, outside, just an all-around great player and was hot in he first half. He single-handedly built their lead in the first half."
With 6-6 Josh Johnson, who had 22 points and 17 rebounds in Monday's quarterfinal victory over No. 15 Long Reach, in early foul trouble and confined to the bench much of the first half last night, Darius Johnson stepped in.
"Our man-to-man defense boned up on 'D,'" Darius said. "Our guards played great."
Darius scored nine of his points in the second quarter after Owens cooled off to send the Panthers to the break with a 40-26 lead, and they controlled the game the rest of the way.
"We played well in the first period and [Josh] Johnson didn't score in the first half, but Owens stepped up his game," Van Deusen said.
River Hill got a dozen points each from senior Matt Glover (eight rebounds, two blocks), junior Richie Jackson and sophomore Aaron Bolds.