Dulaney ended Catonsville’s season last year in the Class 4A North Region semifinals with a 62-61 double-overtime win, so the Comets had other ideas when the Lions travelled to Catonsville High Friday night in a battle of unbeaten 2-0 squads.
However, Dulaney senior Joey O’Dwyer had other ideas.
He turned a two-point lead at the end of the third quarter into a 65-57 advantage with a pair of three-pointers in the first 66 seconds and that sparked the Lions (3-0) to an 87-70 victory.
“I was just feeling it,” O’Dwyer said. “I missed a couple in the first half and I got my confidence back.”
Dulaney coach Matt Lochte also had confidence in him.
“He had missed a few and we called a set play to him and we said ‘You’ve got to let it fly man,’ and he did and he knocked it down and got his confidence back and got another one in the flow of the offense, maybe 30 seconds later, and honestly that was a huge momentum swing.”
Another momentum swing came with a shade over three minutes left, when the Comets (2-1) trailed by 10 and thought they had a steal, but an inadvertent whistle gave the ball back to Dulaney and they called a timeout.
Catonsville’s bench was assessed a technical and Lamont Sanders (12 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) made both free throws and O’Dwyer sunk his fourth three-pointer of the night and the lead ballooned to 15 with 2:36 remaining.
“That (inadvertent whistle) was a backbreaker,” Catonsville coach Matt Fannon said.
The game featured teams with similar styles and both coaches knew the other squad was capable of going on scoring runs in a hurry.
Catonsville got a pair of three-pointers from Eric Sheppard (12 points) and one from Zach Caslin (10 points) and built a 9-2 lead 1:50 into the game.
But Dulaney rallied behind a pressing defense that forced 12 first-half turnovers.
Senior Alex Kassolis scored eight of his 11 points in the first quarter and he hit his second three-pointer with 32 seconds left to give the Lions a 24-22 lead at the break.
Kyndle Jones (10 points) had six points, two steals and two assists off the bench in the opening period and A.J. Richardson (9 points) had three points and two steals as Dulaney’s penetration into the lane keyed its offense.
After Sheppard and Caslin cooled off from the outside, 6-foot-6 junior Ross Kidd took over inside, scoring seven of his career-high 25 points in the period.
“He battled inside,” Fannon said. “He played his butt off.”
Kidd, who finished with 13 rebounds, added eight points in the second quarter, but the Lions broke a 41-41 tie on a pair of layups in the final minute by Jones and Cole Harshman (11 points) added a late free throw and the Lions took a 46-41 lead into intermission.
That lead was shortlived as Catonsville’s press was more active and they forced seven Dulaney turnovers in the first 2:30 of the third quarter.
That sparked a 10-0 Catonsville run that started with a pair of baskets by Kidd.
Caslin pushed the Comets ahead 47-46 with 6:40 left before a basket by Jamal Johnson forced a Dulaney time out.
“We came out fired up,” Fannon said. “We fought back. I thought the guys played hard. I can’t complain about that at all.”
The time out settled the Lions, but not before Jake Getzendanner’s runner made it 51-46 Comets with 5:42 left in the quarter.
Dulaney rallied and regained the lead 59-57 on a pair of free throws by O’Dwyer with 12 seconds remaining.
“Coach Lochte called a good timeout and we focused and got everybody back on the same page and we came back out strong,” O’Dwyer said.
Joining O’Dwyer with key points in the second half off the bench were junior Harshman and freshman Jaylen Wiggins.
Harshman had eight points in the second half and Wiggins had all seven of his in the final 16 minutes.
“I’m so proud of my backcourt,” Lochte said. “You talk about three or four key plays by Jalen Wiggins, a freshman. The kid has got a heart of a lion, he’s growing up fast.”
Catonsville didn’t convert its first field goal of the fourth quarter until a follow shot by Nate Chambers with 3:32 left in the game.
“We were hot in the first quarter, cooled off in the second and pressure led to offense in the third and we just couldn’t buy a bucket there in the fourth quarter,” said Fannon, who would like to see the Lions again in the playoffs. “Hopefully we’ll see them again in February.”
Lochte expects to see them again in the postseason.
“I told their coach it’s very likely we see them again in the playoffs and it will probably be another dogfight,” he said. “We are very similar teams, we press, they press, we’ve got some three-point shooters, they’ve got some three-point shooters.”
Lochte was just happy his three-point shooter got hot in crunch time.