The Panthers, now on a four-game winning streak with just one Anne Arundel loss, take the season sweep against Southern, improving on their last victory over the Bulldogs (11-4), which had been by just two points.
And initially, it had seemed like the two teams were bound to repeat history. Just as Demari Turner pocketed the first layup for Annapolis (11-2), so did Russell Dandridge for Southern. As Craig Pratt (15 points) lifted a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead, sophomore Larry Bulluck tied it back up with his own.
On and on it went, with both teams wrestling away a tiny advantage only to watch it volley to the other side.
For a moment, it’d looked like Southern would be the one to break the wheel. First, senior Khiyon Washington (22 points) weaved through traffic to flip a go-ahead to Bulluck (11 points). Then, he boosted in a pair of treys that temporarily turned control to the Bulldogs.
Then the temperature dropped. One whistle poked a needle in Southern. The second tore them open, all the air spilling out.
Within seconds of one another, both Bulluck and Washington had three fouls pinned on them, benching them with too much time before halftime.
“We had lost some composure, and I had just said, ‘They’re going be trying to get a charge on you. You’ve got to make sure you understand we’ve got to jump stop.’ And bam, we couldn’t get out the way,” Southern coach Will Maynard said. “We couldn’t do it from there.”
Carrol kicked it off before even ten seconds had shaved off the clock, but that was just the appetizer. First Demeiko Ross poured in his 3-pointer, then Harrod, forcing the Bulldogs to call for timeout.
The fouls had made Southern gun-shy on defense, forcing them to play zone, a tactic they normally wouldn’t go for.
That was a space the Panthers enjoyed. Moments after play resumed, Harrod dropped in another 3-pointer, extending the host’s lead to 17 points.
And as the sound of the whistle continued to punctuate gameplay, Annapolis acted like they couldn’t hear it. Defense continued to up their intensity on Bulldogs’ ball-handlers, forcing turnovers and limiting movement.
“When we really put the pressure on them, I felt like they started to fall,” Carrol said. “They really stopped playing as a team.”
Fouls eventually piled up the Panthers, a whopping 23 fouls with five individuals with three or more.
“Sometimes, the game’s too crazy because they don’t call enough. It’s very hard to coach that because it’s a very emotional game,” Annapolis coach Dan Smalley said. “Both teams know each other well. Sometimes, it goes the other side, too.”
But it couldn’t stop them from forcing their will on the Bulldogs. Fresh bodies kept running off the bench into the fray.
“When you get somebody like Southern where they got a couple really strong players, you’re probably gonna get fouls called on you and you’ve got to have backups,” Smalley said. “We’re fortunate to have that this year.”
At first, Southern fought back, drilling a couple field goals. Then, another needle. In the middle of an Annapolis free throw, referees called a technical foul on Dandridge, which would doom the junior to fouling out soon after and seep its toxins into the heads of the Southern players.
The gap kept widening, and with foul pressure on their backs and on their minds, they couldn’t recover, couldn’t string the same kind of offensive spirit like Annapolis’ together.
“We have to learn how to end runs. A lot of times, in these games, teams go on runs and we’re not able to sustain because we don’t have good possessions,” Maynard said. “We’ve got seven more games left before the playoffs, so we’ve got to fix it. I can’t let this Annapolis loss turn into more losses.”
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“I think we’re the best. I always think we’re the best. I feel like we’re really starting to show it,” he said. “We really starting to gel as a team, now that we’ve been with each other for a little bit, all getting used to each other. Now, it’s just uphill from here.”