New Town senior guard Devin Smith was right where he wanted to be in Friday's suddenly close Class 2A state semifinal game against Gwynn Park: the free-throw line.
The circumstance was dire. The Yellow Jackets had pressed and hit baskets and in a frenzied stretch of 41 seconds, turned the No. 1 Titans' comfortable 10-point cushion into one measly point with 40 seconds left.
Smith sank the two free throws — restoring much-needed calm — and he sank two more free throws later, while the defense held the rest of the way for the Titans to come away with a 65-58 win over Gwynn Park at Maryland's Xfinity Center.
New Town, which claimed the Class 1A state title last season, will seek the program's third championship Saturday, taking on the Middletown-Queen Anne's winner. Game time is set for 6 p.m.
Smith was one of three Titans to score 14 points — Chris Fitzgerald and Deonte Hicks were the others — and no points were more important than the two he showed perfect aim on to send the Titans on their way.
"Toward the end of the game, they started trapping a lot, so we really needed someone to knock down free throws and that's my job as a point guard and I knocked them down," he said. "Yeah, I was confident."
A second-half team all season, the Titans showed the same form with a 14-0 run at the end of the third quarter that turned a tight game into a 47-35 advantage with 6:43 to play. They stayed in control for much of the quarter until the Yellow Jackets made an abrupt push.
The New Town lead was 10 when Marlon White hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 59-52 with 1:23 left. Then came New Town turnovers. The Yellow Jackets hit two free throws. And then a follow basket from Isaiah Miles. When Kollin Mitchell came away with another steal and finished with a layup, the Yellow Jackets had all the momentum with the Titans' lead trimmed to 59-58 with 43 seconds left.
Smith and the Titans defense had another plan for the rest of the game.
"It's been happening all year — we just find a way," New Town coach Mike Daniel said.
He later added: "We never say die, we never say we're done and we play until the last second of every game. It's just like being in the gym [during practice]. It's a war when we go after each other. So when we come out, we have the attitude of knowing what we have to do to be successful."
The Titans have often started slow on offense in games this season, relying on their strong team defense and increased urgency in the second half to capture wins.
But that wasn't the case Friday, thanks in large part to the 3-point shooting of Hicks in the first quarter. He hit three straight 3s and added two free throws in a two-minute stretch that gave the Titans a 13-6 lead with 3:33 left in the first quarter. The Yellow Jackets got nine points from Aaron Parker in the first half, and would take a 19-18 lead midway through the second quarter before the Titans got five late points from Smith to take a 27-24 lead at the half.
Senior forward Quincy Roche also reached double figures for the Titans with 12 points, while Gwynn Park got 15 each from Parker and Justin Faison.
(at Maryland's Xfinity Center)
1 New Town 65, Gwynn Park 58
GP – Faison 15, Miles 10, White 9, Parker 15, Mitchell 9. Totals: 18 18-30 58.
NT – Johnson 8, Smith 14, Roche 12, Faust 3, Fitzgerald 14, Hicks 14. Totals: 20 20-28 65.
Half: NT, 27-24