Just like when he shot the 3-pointer that gave the McDonogh boys basketball team the lead for good against Calvert Hall on Wednesday, senior guard Jaedon Willis didn't hesitate when asked what the difference was in the final quarter of a tight game against a quality opponent.
"We just wanted to win. And when we got the shots, we were going to knock them down. We weren't going to hesitate from them and I think that was it," he said.
Trailing for most of the game, the No. 15 Eagles took the lead after Willis knocked down the 3 in the left corner with 1:23 remaining. It was the highlight of a fine-shooting fourth quarter, and when fellow senior guard Damian Chong-Qui added two free throws with 10 seconds left, McDonogh had one more defensive stand left to make. Calvert Hall's Brendan Adams shot a long 3-pointer that rimmed out at the buzzer, and McDonogh held on for a 71-68 home win.
Chong-Qui and junior guard Noah Locke each scored 22 points — Locke reached 1,000 career points in the first half — as the Eagles improved to 6-2 overall and 3-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.
The Cardinals, with two starters out with injuries, dropped to 1-4 and 0-2 in league play. Their four losses are by a combined 10 points.
With the Eagles trailing 32-23 at the half, McDonogh first-year coach TJ Jordan challenged his group to crank up the intensity. They responded at both ends.
Down 52-48 going into the fourth quarter, Chong-Qui led the way with two driving layups, two 3-pointers and the final two free-throws. Locke converted a pivotal 4-point play, and Willis added his big 3.
"I'm proud of our guys," Jordan said. "We talk about intensity and being dialed in. That first half we weren't necessarily dialed in, but we made some adjustments and I challenged them at the half. They persevered and came through in the second half. The confidence [was there]. I tell my guys all the time to shoot the ball with confidence, and they did that.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Locke converted his 4-point play and then Chong-Qui hit a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 61-60 lead with 4:29 left — their first lead since the first quarter.
The Cardinals, who got 17 points from junior guard Brendan Adams, didn't back down. They answered with consecutive 3s by Josh Cornish (15 points) and Adams to retake a 66-61 lead with 3:48 to play.
Adams' make would be the visitors final field goal, however, as the Eagles closed out the final 2:41 with a 10-2 run.
Down 68-66, Chong-Qui drove to the basket, was surrounded, and alertly found Willis in the left corner.
"They were helping a lot on Damian and I knew when Damian was attacking, he was going to kick it to the corner, and I was just going to have knock it down," Willis said. "Earlier in the game, I was missing. But I still had the confidence to knock it down, and when I got the shot I just went right up with it and knew it was going in when I let it go."
With the injuries, the Cardinals have been forced into starting younger players. Despite big efforts, they have been unable to close out games.
"Really great effort — proud of my guys. We just had a couple missed layups down the stretch," Calvert Hall coach John Bauersfeld said.
"Any time you're playing two freshmen and a sophomore, you're going to have some inconsistency. We're getting better; I thought this was our best game, start to finish."