- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
D.J. Gantt said free throws are his team’s bread and butter.
That proved to be true when Calvert made some late shots to help withstand a furious rally and down Frederick Douglass of Prince George’s County, 77-70, in a Class 2A South Region semifinal game Tuesday night at Huntingtown High School.
The second-seeded Cavaliers (18-6 overall), who are playing all of their games on the road this season due to construction on their gymnasium, were scheduled to travel to Oakland Mills in Howard County on Thursday to face the top-seeded Scorpions. Oakland Mills advanced to the title game after a 64-58 win over Largo, also of Prince George’s County.
“Our game plan has been the same all year,” Calvert head coach Jeremy Kurutz said. “We play to our strengths and try to impose our will on the other team. You can’t win with gimmicks and tricks that ignore what you’ve practiced and done all year. Our philosophy is to have trust in each other and try and do what we do well. If that isn’t good enough, we can live with that knowing we brought our game to the other team.”
The championship game was played too late for inclusion in this edition.
“Pulling out close games is good because when you’re blowing out games and you get into a close game, sometimes you don’t really know how to win that game,” said Calvert’s Josh Smith, who scored a game-high 30 points. “Being put in situations like these really helps in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers are hoping to advance to their first states appearance since the 1996-97 campaign when they fell in the semifinals. Calvert also fell in the semifinals in 1986-87 and 1996-97. The last Calvert County team to advance was Northern in 1999-2000, when it too fell in the semifinals.
“We have no reason to be nervous because they’re the [number] 1 seed and we’re the 2 seed, so we have nothing to worry about,” Calvert senior Jeremy Upton said of facing the undefeated Scorpions. “We just have to go out there and play our hardest.”
Calvert appeared ready to cruise toward the final as it snapped an early 2-2 tie and led 15-6 after the first quarter. The Cavaliers extended their lead to a game-high 18 points midway through the third period and sported a 12-point cushion with just more than four minutes to play.
But the 11th-seeded Eagles (13-13) refused to fold, and Saquan Epps-Walker’s two three-pointers — sandwiching two missed Calvert free throws — pared the lead down to 72-70 with 29.8 seconds left.
“The team, sometimes some of us get a little down mentally, with the lead,” Gantt said, “so we just have to remind ourselves to get back up and keep playing strong and play strong on defense.”
Calvert failed to inbounds the ensuing possession in five seconds, and Douglass took over.
“If you’re in a jam, don’t panic, pivot,” Kurutz said of the play. “[I told our guys] if there is no sure play to get away from their basket and attack, take the five [-second] count and rely on our defense. Don’t give away two points from an errant pass and steal for a layup.”
Douglass failed to cash in when the subsequent shot by Epps-Walker caromed off the rim and into the framework. Calvert took over and called timeout. “I drew up a play to Jermaine, but he told me to reverse it to Josh,” Kurutz said, referring to Jermaine Hunter. “Jermaine knew Josh was having a good day at the line.”
And it worked. Smith was fouled and hit 5 of 6 from the free-throw line to help seal the win.
“If he doesn’t step forward and be a leader,” Kurutz said of Hunter, “that game could have been different.”
Calvert ended up hitting 19 of 29 from the free-throw line (66 percent), with Smith (10 of 11, 91 percent) leading the team.
“We knew for the rest of the game when we got fouled we would shoot free throws,” Gantt said, “and that’s our bread and butter when the game’s on the line.”
Hunter said the incentive to make the shots stems from practice.
“We work on them in practice everyday, and if we miss them,” he said, “we have to run, so it helps us make the pressure shots. We definitely went on a cold streak and then got hot, but we work hard in practice, so when it comes to crunch time when everybody’s tired, we did what we had to get the win.
Upton, who hit a clutch three late in the second to put the Cavaliers ahead 34-17, said Douglass’ rally caused some anxious moments and some miscues.
“Definitely [I feel relieved because] it was stressful at the end,” he said. “They’re a quick team, and when they speed up a little bit, it’s harder to make your passes and everything’s off just a little bit, so you make some turnovers.”
“We made turnovers here and there, but we got it together,” Calvert’s Datavious Thomas said.
Smith said the Eagles didn’t play like a team that was seeded 11th and just one game over .500 entering Tuesday night’s clash.
“They’re a great team, and I didn’t really know what their seed was but that meant nothing coming in because I saw how good that team is. They were great. Shots weren’t falling for us, but we kept fighting and fighting and taking high-percentage shots.”
Douglass head coach Tyrone Massenburg was unable to be reached for comment.
Gantt said he’s not getting too excited at advancing to the next round.
“[I’m] excited, but I’m not going to get my head boosted up,” he said. “We’ve still got work to do.”