- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Despite a 16-point halftime lead Thursday in the Class 3A South Region quarterfinals, the second-seeded Thomas Stone Cougars did not feel too good about themselves until the third quarter.
That was when they were able to push the ball in their preferred up-and-down pace, nearly doubling their advantage from intermission, and literally run away with the postseason affair.
The visiting Northern Patriots, randomly seeded seventh, could not keep up and fell by an 84-46 outcome.
Stone (16-7 overall), looking to win the regional title for the fifth time in six years, hosted third-seeded Waldorf rival Westlake (17-6) on Tuesday in an intriguing clash that finished too late for inclusion in this edition. During the regular season, Stone and Westlake split their two showdowns, each with home victories.
Stone had doubled up Northern (5-18) in the regular season with a 62-31 home win but struggled at the onset of the rematch with both teams’ playoff lives on the line.
Northern’s zone defense kept Stone in sluggish, half-court form, the Cougars only ahead 12-6 through the opening quarter. And standout senior point guard Michael Briscoe, the only Stone player with any substantial playoff experience, missed his first three shots.
But like his team, Briscoe got into groove as the pace picked up and finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds. His game-high scoring output exploded in the second and third quarters when he registered 20 points, as Stone took control of the game.
“In the first quarter, we were a little bit shaky because we haven’t played in a couple weeks,” Briscoe said after tallying at least 25 points for the third straight game. “After we adjusted to what they were running and got back into our game, we had success and we kicked it up on defense. After halftime, we came out and kept playing hard. We played better full-court defense and we got a lot of rebounds, and that led to some fastbreaks and easy layups.”
Stone senior forward Jasc Williams also notched a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Teammates Malik Gross and Tony Doublin were also in double digits offensively with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Gross hauled in eight rebounds.
Jordan Battle aided Stone in the rebounding advantage with 11 boards.
“In the first quarter, Northern played a great defense — a little match-up man, zone-type thing — and they ran that very well,” Stone head coach Dale Lamberth said. “I thought [Northern] came in with a great game plan. We stood around a lot, and that plays right into that kind of defense. There were stints in the first quarter, even though we went up six or seven points, it was still relatively a close game.
“In the second quarter, we kind of ratcheted it up a little bit. The kids played tougher.”
Stone owned a 37-21 halftime lead, which ballooned to 65-34 by the end of the third.
“I just think the jitters of a playoff game,” Lamberth said about what contributed to his playoff-inexperienced team’s slow start.
Northern was spearheaded by junior DJ Workcuff and sophomore Sammy Thomas with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
“We had a tough match-up with them,” Northern first-year head coach Frank Moore said. “They’re so athletic; they’re quick and strong. When we could stay in our zone, we could match up with them. In the first three minutes of the game, [Stone] didn’t shoot very well. If we could’ve shot the ball well during those first three minutes, we could’ve gotten up by seven, eight [points] and we might’ve put pressure on them. But that didn’t happen because we didn’t score either.”
The veteran frontman added, “The one positive I can take away is finally DJ Workcuff and Sammy Thomas, our two big guys, got the points we thought we could’ve gotten out of them all year long. That was good.”
Northern (5-18) finished with the same overall tab this year, improved by two wins in SMAC action at 4-8. And Moore noted a definite upgrade in his team’s performance as the season wore along, pointing out that Northern was competitive in 17 of its games — a half dozen of them coming down to the last couple minutes and three coming down to last-second shots.
Northern won three of its final five contests.
“I’ve got 13 kids coming back next year,” the Northern coach said. “We just couldn’t finish out [wins]. That’s the hardest thing, you’ve got to learn how to win. From what I saw of them playing last summer, they’re a completely different bunch of kids now. I saw a big jump from the way we started and the way we finished [the season]. So I’m excited [for next year]. I’m impatient, too. I thought we’d turn it around quicker, but we’re improving.”
Moore added, “I’d be lying to you [if I said I didn’t have second thoughts about leaving Calvert this year],” Moore said. “But my wife said, ‘No, don’t even say it. You wanted to go coach the [Northern] boys, and you did a good job.’ I’m excited [about my Northern team]. We’re going to be different next year.”