- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
With the Thomas Stone Cougars desperately holding onto a late four-point lead Tuesday in the Class 3A South Region semifinals, their packed gym was deafening. The crosstown Westlake Wolverines also turned out a large, raucous cheering section.
Both teams had been trading momentous spurts in much the same way their spirited student bodies — each sparked by a group of shirtless boys — and boisterous cheerleaders tried to one-up the other.
Third-seeded Westlake was on the verge of ending the game on a run the way it had the final few minutes of the previous three quarters, forcing three turnovers in the final two-plus minutes. But only two free throws were scored off the Stone turnovers; Westlake missed a layup on the break and got tied up for a jumpball turnover of its own in the process.
Playoff-poised Stone, clinging to a two-point advantage, put the game away in the final 38 seconds thanks to a clutch bucket in the post by forward Jasc Williams and a gift-wrapped, turnover-induced transition score for standout senior point guard Michael Briscoe.
The renewed Waldorf rivalry saw second-seeded Stone prevail with a 72-67 edging of third-seeded Westlake (17-7), advancing the Cougars to tonight’s 7 p.m. regional final at top-seeded Potomac (20-3) in Oxon Hill.
Reigning state runner-up Stone (17-7) is after its fifth regional title in six years, having beaten Potomac twice in the last three years for the 3A South title including a 79-63 victory just a postseason ago.
“Basically, I just told all my teammates, ‘We’re not going home. We’ve got a dream, let’s go get our dream,’” Williams said after his impressive effort of 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. He totaled four points in the final 38 seconds, burying a pair of free throws with 9.9 ticks left to put the icing on the winning cake. “I definitely feel like it’s a wake-up call that we just can’t take anybody for granted, because in the first half we thought we were just going to do our thing and not expect any resistance from the other team. In the second half, we had to get back on it because we are a better team than how we were playing.”
The first three quarters were all decided by two points in the tight affair before Stone out-scored Westlake, 23-16, in the deciding fourth.
Briscoe, who somehow avoided further foul trouble after picking up his third with a couple minutes left in the first half, continued to showcase why he’s one of the elite players in the state with game-highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting from the floor in the win.
The 6-foot-2 explosive talent was particularly dynamic in the second half, tallying 11 points with great lift on his jumper while hanging in the air via complete body control as he converted driving layups amid heavy traffic of defenders.
Junior forward Jordan Battle amassed 14 points and six boards for Stone. He scared Stone’s fan base with 5 minutes 25 seconds left in the third when he went down holding his left ankle.
Battle returned at the three-minute mark of the third after some trainer magic, notching all seven of his second-half points in the fourth, including a big three-point play with 3:04 remaining for a 62-56 Stone lead.
Senior guard Tony Doublin finished with nine points for Stone, highlighted by a three-pointer off Briscoe’s drive and dish.
“We kept fighting and sort of had a will to win at the end, and everybody kept believing that we could win,” said Briscoe, who was isolated with the ball for much of the final quarter as Stone’s half-court offense ran almost exclusively through him.
Westlake senior point guard Charles Clark got caught in the air at the top of the key, down 68-64 inside the final 35 seconds, and he passed the ball behind himself with no teammate in the area, uncharacteristic of his ability.
Briscoe scooped the ball up and raced down the floor for an uncontested layup for a 70-64 lead with 27 seconds left and Stone fans on their feet, sensing victory in hand.
Clark and senior guard Phillip Jackson each led Westlake with 15 points, while teammate Omar Alston scored 14.
“I didn’t take care of the ball. I take blame for that,” a downcast Clark said. “I left my feet. All throughout high school, they always teach you not to leave your feet when you pass. That’s the last play I had the ball. I thought I had somebody in the area when I first jumped, but I saw [a Stone defender] take that option away. And I thought there was someone behind me. When I turned, I had to let it go.
“They had a lot of four-point swings where we were down two and we’d miss our bucket and they’d make theirs.”
Briscoe added of benefiting from the gift-wrapped turnover, “We just got lucky. I didn’t expect it at all.”
Stone shot the lights out in the second half, making 14 of its 18 field goal attempts (78 percent).
But Westlake offset the hot shooting by attacking the offensive glass with 20 rebounds, 12 more than it had defensively. Stone only had 10 offensive rebounds. And Westlake forced 22 turnovers while committing just 13.
“I was kind of concerned going into halftime because I knew we could play better,” Stone head coach Dale Lamberth said. “If this was the beginning of the year or midseason, I’d be bouncing off the walls in the locker room. But this was the end of the year, and it boiled down to turnovers, rebounding and playing defense.”
It was an atmosphere reminiscent of what always transpired in the rivalry when both clubs were the only shows in Waldorf as league powers, before North Point arrived on the scene.
Westlake first-year head coach Ed Mouton, formerly a North Point assistant and someone who has brought over the winning formula from his former stomping grounds, said, “It was a good ole Thomas Stone-Westlake game. Unfortunately, it came down to a couple of possessions, and the possession went their way at the end. My kids are down right now, but I stressed to them how great of a season they had so don’t hold your head down. They’re winners. That was the biggest thing for me that they battled.
“Our future is bright at Westlake. We’ve got some great young players coming up, and it’s going to be fun next year.”