- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A win Friday for either the La Plata Warriors or the visiting McDonough Rams was thought to be worth an earned No. 4 seed in their respective playoff regions, which tip off the boys basketball postseason next week.
Only a region’s top four seeds are based on record and are guaranteed at least two home games, if not a first-round bye, while the rest of the seeds are randomly drawn.
But with Sunday’s playoff draw to determine the regional seeding in each of the four classifications of schools, McDonough discovered that its 84-68 victory over La Plata was not good enough to pocket the fourth seed in the Class 2A South Region.
Just missing out on claiming the last of the top-four seeds in its bracket, McDonough settled for a randomly drawn ninth seed in the region despite a convincing win in its regular season finale.
The No. 9 seed means McDonough (13-9, 7-5 SMAC) will be at eighth-seeded Gwynn Park of Prince George’s County (12-10) on Tuesday. A win there would advance McDonough to top-seeded and unbeaten Oakland Mills of Howard County (22-0).
Don’t expect to hear any complaining from McDonough about its unlucky random seeding despite winning its final four games and five of six to close the regular season.
“It doesn’t really matter who we play right now. We’re just ready for whoever [in the playoffs],” McDonough’s fast, tough-minded point guard Marquel Austin said. “We just [have to] play smart.”
The senior added less than 48 hours before the playoff draw after his game-high 20 points in Friday’s game, “Whether we’re the fourth seed, fifth seed, sixth seed. … It doesn’t really matter. We’re just ready to play. We ended [the regular season] on a good note. Now, we’re ready for playoffs.”
Rams head coach Eulo Regala was aware of there being about five teams vying for that fourth seed in the region.
“To be quite with this group, I didn’t even talk to them about [getting that fourth seed before Friday’s game],” he said. “We’re playing good basketball right now. We’re going to have to go through everybody [that’s a contender] anyways [to win our region]. These guys love going on the road; that’s the thing about this team. Actually, they want to go on the road more than they want to play at home.
“They love that me-against-the-world mentality. We play better on the road.”
McDonough boasted a better road record during the regular season, going 8-4 away from home while managing just a .500 record (5-5) on its own court.
The match-up with La Plata was a case-in-point of how the Rams played better in the county rivalry match-up on the road, taking control of Friday’s affair in the third quarter with an 8-2 run to stretch their 34-28 halftime lead to 42-30 just 90 seconds into the second half.
La Plata whittled the lead down to no less than eight points in the third before McDonough applied the knockout blow, a 17-4 run from the end of the third through the opening 2 minutes and 39 seconds of the fourth, and earned a commanding 71-50 upper hand.
Austin’s knack of quickly pushing the ball up court, from one end to the other to create transition buckets for himself and teammates, resulted in plenty of instant offense. He got to the free-throw line 15 times by attacking the basket, sinking 10 of his free throws.
McDonough seniors Nicolas Lee, Dereck Burns and Rashad Kennedy each played a major role in spoiling La Plata’s senior night. Lee registered 16 points, fueled by a quartet of three-balls with his sharp-shooting touch, while Burns and Kennedy scored 14 and 13 respectively.
“The second half was incredible. We came out with a big tempo, kept it high and played great defense,” Burns said after producing his entire point total in the second half, notching six points during McDonough’s run to open the third in the first 90 seconds. “Marquel, he’s like a father to me. He keeps me in the game. I’m thankful for him because he’s giving me a lot of buckets; I’m giving him a lot of assists. He just helps me out.”
For La Plata (9-11, 6-6), seniors Kory Anding, Nick Pitcher and Jordan Alston each had big scoring games in double digits. Anding scored a team-high 17 points, while Pitcher and Alston scored 16 and 13 respectively.
After McDonough stormed out to a 12-3 lead to start the game, Anding and Pitcher led La Plata’s comeback with 20 combined points in the first half. La Plata held a 21-20 lead with 6:36 left in the half before going cold from the floor, missing multiple three-point attempts that enabled McDonough to regain the lead going into intermission.
On top of the skid that kept La Plata from gaining the No. 4 seed in the 3A South, head coach James Douglas discovered Saturday that his senior captain and starting point guard Ronnie Harmon was most likely done for the rest of the year due to sustaining a broken hand late in the second quarter against McDonough.
Harmon came out of intermission with his hand heavily wrapped, and Douglas thought it was a bone bruise after the game. X-rays following the game revealed otherwise.
Harmon’s costly injury was another obstacle in a series of setbacks for La Plata last week. He’s averaging 15 points per game and leads the team in scoring and assists, the La Plata frontman noted.
“We’re a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. It’s all about which team is going to show up,” Douglas said. “What really hurt us tonight was they came out and got hot early; we made a rally and cut it to six, but then our point guard got hurt. [Harmon] has proven to be one of the top point guards in SMAC this year. It kills us because he runs the offense. It runs through him. He’s the star player on our team. So without him, we’re limited.
“We don’t have anybody on the team that can handle the ball like he can.”