Despite its obvious advantage in talent and athleticism, No. 9 Pikesville struggled to find its stride early in Saturday night's Class 1A girls basketball final against Smithsburg. So clinging to just a four-point lead at halftime, coach Michael Dukes didn't mince words with his players.
“They'll probably tell you I lit into them at halftime about our energy level," Dukes said. "I just thought we needed to raise it up.”
The Panthers apparently listened and produced a 61-31 win at Towson University's SECU Arena.
Led by guard Frances Glover-Bey (18 points, 9 rebounds), guard Keante Lewis (14 points, 6 rebounds) and forward Charia Roberts (13 rebounds), Pikesville dominated play with its suffocating man-to-man defense after the break, forcing five turnovers in the first 2:30 minutes.
It marked the first state title for Pikesville (26-4), which has gone 48-7 since Dukes took over the program prior to last season. A year ago, the Panthers made it as far as the state semifinal.
This time, they were determined to finish the job.
“Our coach just said, ‘We've come this far, so why fold now,' " Glover-Bey sad. "We just knew we needed to pick it up, and I felt like I'd try my best to keep that energy.”
“We just emphasized staying in their face all night long," Dukes said. "This fullcourt man has been our bread and butter all season long, so they were going to have to show us that it would be a problem for us to defense them that way.”
Smithsburg (20-8) never did, making just 10 of 44 field goal attempts and hurting its own cause by missing 12 of 18 from the foul line.
All told, Pikesville outscored Smithsburg, 43-17, in the second half, while growing its lead to as much as 33.
“We paid attention to their bigs, but we didn't anticipate them taking that many threes," Smithsburg coach Charles Burnett said of the Panthers, who made five of their 24 three-point attempts. "They're a very well balanced team, and we didn't have an answer today.”
It didn't help that Leopards point guard Lexi Handerson missed the game after suffering a hand injury Friday night in her team's win over Coppin Academy. Smithsburg wound up turning the ball over 19 times, and didn't have a single player reach double figures scoring.
Offensively, Pikesville had little trouble adjusting to Smithsburg's two-three zone, time and again putting up long jumpers, then winning rebounds underneath the basket for putbacks.
"We've faced zones all year, so offensively we were really prepared to see any zone that they could throw at us," Dukes said.
The win particularly special for a Panthers team that has made enormous strides on the court over the past few seasons
“We went from winning four games one season, then  last season," Glover Bey said. "I feel like it gives the school more trust in us to be able to present ourselves in a stronger way.”
“It's pretty surreal right now," Dukes added. " With the returning group that we had, we raised the bar high, and set our goals for county and state championship. We emphasized `no moral victories.' The goals were just a lot higher this year.”
S – Barnes 5, Grove 4, Davis 7, Lindsay 9, Rummel 3, Domenico 3. Totals: 10 6-18 31.
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P – Glover-Bey 18, Frazier 5, Lewis 14, Robinson 6, Sterling 7, Roberts 5, Saunders 6. Totals: 22 12-16 61. Half: Pikesville, 18-14.