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COLLEGE PARK Centennial brought out the larger crowd for Thursday’s Class 3A boys basketball state semifinals inside the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, and the Howard County school’s fan base was more animated at the opening tip.

But it was the Thomas Stone Cougars which had the last word, enabling their faithful to repeatedly chant the classics, ‘Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!’ and ‘Start the bus!,’ in the final minute of action as they dismissed Centennial from the postseason with a 69-61 victory.

Stone (25-1 overall) broke open a tight, low-scoring contest through the early stretches of the third quarter, unleashing one of its patented scoring outbursts spurred on by harassing defense.

Stone took control of the game and its pace with a 30-12 jaunt from the 5-minute-53-second mark of the third until the final 4 1/2 minutes to break the back of Centennial (21-6), going from 27-25 down to taking a commanding 55-39 lead.

That was plenty enough to send Stone to its third state final in five years on Saturday at 3 p.m. back on the Comcast Center hardwood against Patterson of Baltimore.

Stone will meet the same Patterson team (20-7) that lost to North Point last year in the 4A state title game. Patterson easily handled Tuscarora of Frederick County in Thursday’s other 3A state semifinal, 70-46.

Stone is hopeful this third time will be the charm.

“That was a stingy defense,” Stone head coach Dale Lamberth said of Centennial. “We’ve seen a lot of really good teams coming through the league, coming through the playoffs, and they did a great job. So we had to be patient. They came in with a good game plan; it was effective. They kind of slowed us up a little bit. We had to be more methodical than we normally are instead of running up and down.

“Just over time, we got a couple of breakouts and that helped us.”

What was also a helpful boost was point guard Michael Briscoe’s clutch three-ball as the halftime buzzer sounded, giving Stone a 23-22 intermission edge its first lead since scoring the opening bucket of the game.

Briscoe registered a team-high 21 points with five assists, scoring 16 in the second half as the standout junior pushed the ball at will in the final two quarters instead of playing tentatively like he did for much of the first half.

“It gave me a lot of confidence because it was hard to get my shot off in the first half,” Briscoe said of his pull-up three-pointer from the top of the key to end the first half, measuring the game clock the whole time until the last possible moment.

Stone inside forces Emeka Mbakwe and Brelin Elliott finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

“Going into the locker room, there was a lot of excitement knowing we can get up on this team,” Elliott said. “That just made us want to go out there and play defense and offense like we’ve usually been playing since [the start of the] playoffs.”

Mbakwe grabbed a team-high 10 boards, while Elliott snagged eight rebounds, each with four on the offensive end. Fellow Stone senior Devin Mainor hauled in nine rebounds along with his seven points.

The glass output added up to a lopsided 45-32 cushion for Stone in rebounds, including a 20-13 upper hand on the offensive boards. That gradually took its toll on Centennial, particularly in the second half.

Stone missed a bevy of high-percentage, inside looks, many of them on putbacks from offensive boards, in the first half that led to its scoring frustration.

Not to be overlooked in the win was the defensive swarming of rangy forward Anthony Chisley.

His back-to-back steals in the third quarter, leading to a transition buckets for himself and Briscoe, gave Stone the lead for good while triggering its massive game-clinching run.

“We’re used to running,” Chisley said about what Stone thrives on, his defense in the third being the catalyst.

“He’s one of those unsung guys,” Lamberth added of Chisley, responsible for eight points, five rebounds and those two game-changing steals. “One minute, he’s hidden. And the next minute, there he is. A credit to him, he paces himself and doesn’t force a whole lot. But you knew it was going to happen, he’s been doing it all year.”

The Stone coach added, “The third quarter we had to be more assertive in playing our game, and that opened it up. We were just more relaxed the last two quarters, nothing magical.”

Stone downed a Centennial club guided by guard Keonte Potts’ game-high 22 points.

Forward Timi Tinuoye posted a big-time double-double in the loss with 19 points and 16 rebounds. He scored Centennial’s final 15 points.

Teammate Omari Ringgold had 14 points, but Centennial’s three double-digit scorers were not enough.

“It started with a couple of turnovers and easy [Stone] baskets,” Centennial head coach Chad Hollwedel said about what plagued his team when the tide turned from the third to fourth. “We did a pretty good job for most of the game, containing transition, which we knew is something they were incredible at. They get out and they move. We struggled for a lot of the game with second- and third-shot opportunities.”

Centennial was also hurt by missing all 13 of its three-point attempts.

Hollwedel added, “What happened on our end is when they got a couple easy ones, we started to play a little bit too fast. And our game had to be to slow down in the half court and really make them work.”

dcogle@somdnews.com

Stone 69, Centennial 61

Stone 12 11 22 24Centennial 12 10 11 28

Stone: Briscoe 21, Mbakwe 11, Elliott 10, Chisley 8, Mainor 7, Stewart 6, Aderinkola 4, Sanders 2

Centennial: Potts 22, Tinuoye 19, Ringgold 14, Goldsmith 4, Peterson 2

Free throws: Stone 20-31 (Briscoe 8-8, Mbakwe 7-8); Centennial 15-19 (Potts 6-8)

3-point goal: Stone 1 (Briscoe)