St. Charles (Md.) 2020 wing Max Brooks. [MARCUS HELTON]
SALISBURY, MD - It’s not often that a bracket consolation final proves to be a contender for best game of the Governor’s Challenge, but Saturday’s contest between St. Charles (Md.) and Gaithersburg (Md.) wasn’t your typical bracket consolation game.
Coming off opening losses on Friday, the Spartans and Trojans turned in a thriller on Saturday, with St. Charles coming out on top in overtime, 75-73 at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.
St. Charles 2020 guard Klayton Batten hit the go-ahead bucket with X remaining in overtime, and Gaithersburg couldn’t convert a drive on the other end as time expired.
2020 wing and UMass-Lowell commit Max Brooks tallied 24 points, nine rebounds, and five steals to lead the Spartans, and put together a personal highlight reel of dunks during one impressive stretch in the first half.
“Us pushing the tempo on offense, that really helped us a lot today,” Brooks said. “They were a good team on offense but when we went faster than them, that really helped us.”
In addition to Brooks, Saturday’s game was filled with impressive performances. St. Charles 2020 guard Omar McGann scored 22 points while hitting five 3-pointers - each seemingly more cold-blooded than the last.
Gaithersburg star 2021 guard Jao Ituka went had 26 points and 12 rebounds, and 2020 wing Chris Kouemi poured in 26 of his own while shooting 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
“The key to the game down the stretch was we had to keep our intensity up on ‘D’,’” McGann said, “‘cause they were hitting shots that were really tough. We just had to keep our heads high, because if we had kept our heads down, the game would have been over - they would have just kept hitting 3’s and the game could have been a runaway. But we stayed together and fought through and we won the game.”
St. Charles fell to Middleburg Academy (Va.) in their Governor’s Challenge opener Saturday at Wicomico High School - they had a chance to win it in the final seconds but couldn’t convert and lost by a point - while Gaithersburg lost to Western Branch (Va.).
“We had no time to hang our heads,” Spartans coach Brett Campbell said, “because it’s a very well-coached team and Jao’s an outstanding player and a fantastic leader, which is something good teams always have. [Kouemi] stepped up and made shots. It was a game we were excited for - ‘excited’ may not have been the right word, but when you lose you’re still like, this would be a matchup that when the brackets came out we were hopeful would happen. Now ideally, it would have been for a championship, but that Middleburg team is really talented. That’s why we come play these games.”
The game was tight throughout. The Spartans led 13-12 after one quarter, 39-36 at the half and 53-52 after three quarters, with the Trojans grabbing several leads of their own.
Gaithersburg was up in the final minute of regulation before St. Charles guard Amir Dade tied things up at 67-67 with 25.6 seconds remaining, and the Trojans missed a potential winning 3-pointer in the final five seconds to force the extra period.
Brooks tied the score with 47.9 seconds to go in OT, and Dade later found Batten standing uncovered under the basket for an easy lay-in to seal the victory.
“I really don’t know what they were going through because I’m not on that team,” Batten said, “but it was a lot of commotion and they were trapping a lot, and then it just so happened that Amir found me.”
Gaithersburg’s Mandela Tarke sprinted down the floor and drove for the potential tying basket, but his scoop shot fell short and to the left.
“Both teams just made plays,” Campbell said. “It was Like ‘OK, deep breath, we’re up four,’ and then I’d look at the clock and ‘OK, wait, we’re down 4?’ They just immediately made a run, and then suddenly we’d make a run to respond, so it almost came down to who had the ball last. We were able to get a stop there at the end of regulation and we had a foul to give, which kind of took them off of what they were trying to do. Then at the end of overtime we were holding for one and Klay just kind of emerged wide open, and made a tough finish and we got a big stop there at the end.”
Olympic (NC) 2020 guard Josh Banks. [KYLE MCFADDEN]
BANKS CHARGES OLYMPIC PAST DULANEY
Joshua Banks received the pass off the steal and knew exactly what to do in the waning seconds of the third quarter. The 6-foot-5 guard put the ball on the deck and motored at the rim, and when the VCU commit arrived at his favorite destination, he capitalized resoundingly. Banks finished the and-one lay-up with half a second left in the quarter to put his Trojans up eight going to the fourth.
Banks wound up with 36 points on 15-for-21 shooting, charging his Olympic squad past Dulaney Saturday evening, 73-68, in the DMVelite Showcase division at Wicomico Youth and Civic Center.
“My confidence has sky-rocketed,” Banks said. “When my confidence is up, I feel like I can do anything on the court and show it to the world.”
The play at the end of the third quarter capped a momentous four-point swing in a matter of 10 seconds for the Trojans, who stretched their lead from four to eight heading into the final quarter.
“It was big,” Banks said. “I knew we needed a bucket. I knew coach wanted me to get that bucket for us.”
Banks also pieced together back-to-back buckets with three minutes left in the second quarter to give Olympic the lead for good, as Dulaney never regained control.
A minute into the fourth, Olympic had staked its largest lead of the game, 63-53, after Trevon Williams got the put-back to fall. But behind four-star 2021 guard Ryan Conway (26 points), Dulaney chipped away, as a Conway 3-pointer brought the Lions within five with 3:30 to play.
Conway and Banks combined for 62 of the game’s 141 points, as the two played centerstage to a rare Baltimore-Charlotte showdown on the hardwood.
“We love playing the real good teams well-known in their cities,” Banks said. “We love traveling to different cities, seeing different types and styles of basketball and different kinds of atmospheres.”
Dulaney had a chance to send it to overtime when it inbounded the ball, down three, with 13.6 seconds, but Cameron Byers’ 3-point attempt sailed wide and Olympic held on from there.
BATCHELOR BUZZER-BEATER LIFTS GCS
With his team trailing 49-47 with just 1.8 seconds remaining against Seton Hall Prep (NJ), Glenelg Country (Md.) 2022 star forward Noah Batchelor temporarily shook off his defender on a screen, caught the ball at the top of the 3-point arc, turned and fired.
At that point, he admittedly didn’t feel great about his shot’s chances.
“I didn’t even think it was going to go in, for real,” Batchelor said after leading his team to a 50-49 victory. “I was hoping it was going to go in, ’cause I couldn’t even see it; there was somebody, like, right on top of me, so as soon as I shot it, I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ Then when it went in, I was like, “That’s crazy.’ I was on the ground.”
Batchelor’s teammate Jordan Brathwaite - who set the screen that gave him space to catch the ball - had a much better look at the winner.
“It was unreal to me,” Brathwaite said. “I was right under the basket looking at it go right in - I was thinking ‘It’s going to go right in,’ but I was thinking, like, ‘It looks too good to be true.’ So when it finally went in, it was crazy. It took a second to finally settle in but we just all went crazy, ’cause that was a great shot.”
Batchelor’s shot capped a frenetic final minute that saw the Pirates take the lead on a 3-pointer by Zander Zebrowski with around 13 seconds remaining. Seton Hall Prep had two fouls to give, and worked the clock down to just 1.8 seconds with the Dragons inbounding on the sideline.
Seton Hall Prep called a timeout after looking at Glenelg Country’s formation, setting the stage for Batchelor’s final heroics.
“So the first play was me coming off to the corner,” he said, “and then because they knew I was going to go to the corner, we just switched it up and we put Igor [Yoka-Bratasz] in my spot to go to the corner. It’s the same play, it’s just I came off of a screen and knocked down the shot.”
Brathwaite had 17 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Dragons, while Batchelor finished with 12.
Zebrowski had 11 points to lead the Pirates, while Gary Hinds and Giye Jenkins finished with 10 points each.
Glenelg Country came in shorthanded due to some recent injuries, and after trailing by one point following the first quarter, they managed just five in the second half to dig themselves into a 27-21 halftime hole.
“We even said in the locker room that we needed to come out and give more effort,” Batchelor said, “so I feel like we put it together and we came out with the ‘W’ playing good defense.”
The Dragons will face Monsignor Scanlan (NY) - which fell to Piedmont Classical (NC) in an earlier game - on Sunday at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.
“I like it, it’s not the same old same old,” Brathwaite said of his team’s trip to the Governor’s Challenge. “So we get to see different things that we don’t really see in our conference. But we were prepared; and we knew some stuff that they were going to do and what they were going to pull off. We knew they were going to make some shots and they did, but in the end we came out victorious because we did what we planned.”
New Era (Md.) 2020 forward Rico Lang.
LANG A MATCHUP NIGHTMARE FOR NEW ERA
At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, New Era (Md.) 2020 forward Rico Lang doesn’t initially strike opponents as the player they need to key in on the basketball court.
“I think it catches a lot of teams by surprise because of my weight, but I have a good skill set and good footwork and a good jumper,” Lang said after his team’s 67-57 win over Havre DeGrace at the Wicomico Civic Center. “So I just catch a lot of team by surprise, and then when they catch on to it, it’ll be too late and I’ll already be in my rhythm.”
Lang got into that rhythm early and stayed in it, posting 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jaguars to the Bracket 12 Championship. Lang scored 17 of his points in the first half to stake New Era to a 38-24 halftime lead, and the Jags withstood a second-half rally to take the crown.
A transfer from Mervo (Md.), Lang has fit in well with New Era where he’s been given the opportunity to display his versatility on the offensive end. He has good footwork and a very soft touch around the basket, and showed he can even step outside and hit the 3 with good form on his jumper.
“I’ve always had that [ability] since I’ve played basketball, it’s just a natural thing for me,” he said. “I guess when I play, it’s just easy for me, so it just happens and it works in my favor.”
Conditioning is an issue - Lang seemed to tire noticeably for a stretch in the third quarter - and he said he’s like to drop down into the 230-245 pound range to get faster.
“Honestly, he’s really a big guard - he’s just big,” Jaguars coach Jimmy Little said. “He really can shoot the ball, so that’s why I yell at him a lot to get down low - ‘Get your big tail down low!’ because I know he can step out and shoot it, but can’t too many people play that big guy. Now I’ve just got to get his conditioning back where it needs to be and his eating habits back where they need to be, so by the end of the year when we start the playoffs, he’s going to be hard to stop.”
Lang went to Patterson as a freshman and Mervo his sophomore and junior year but couldn’t play due to academics. He returned to the court last season and is breaking out as a senior.
“With Rico for the first time at New Era, we really have size and skill,” Little said. “He can do it all; now, he’s just starting to get comfortable with the team and understand his role and where he fits, where his place is at on the court and how to really get his shot together. For the last two games, he carried us, you know what I mean? But that’s his role: he’s the big guy. We’re going to go as far as Rico takes us.”
HOUSE DROPS 31, POWERS MIDDLEBURG TO BRACKET TITLE
Jaden House’s outside shot wasn’t finding the bottom of the twine, but that didn’t put a damper on his team’s biggest game to date of the 2019-20 season.
The 2021 guard showed why he’s one of the most sought after recruits amongst local low and mid-majors in the Metropolitan area, dropping 31 points to power his Dragons past Western Branch, 84-75, and to the Boys Bracket #8 championship.
For the game, House was 0-for-4 behind the arc but 12-for-17 from inside the arc and 7-for-9 from the charity stripe, spearheading an offensive attack that resulted in 52 points in the paint.
“My shot wasn’t falling, so I just had to make sure I kept my team in it and make sure I get to the rack” House said. “My mindset is always attack mode.”
Western Branch led 43-37 at the half and led by as many as eight in the third quarter, but that’s when Middleburg corralled itself and turned the tide, outscoring the Bruins 47-30 the rest of the way. And not long after the Dragons found itself down eight, House picked up his fourth foul.
“Definitely learned we have to fight through things,” House said. “We haven’t really been tested this year. We’ve played a few teams that were pretty good but we came down here and didn’t think it was going to be a cakewalk and it surely wasn’t. Just learning how to be tough.”
House, a 6-4 combo guard who has great frame at 6-foot-4, holds offers from DMV programs Howard, Mount St. Mary’s, James Madison, Old Dominion, and Georgetown to go along with Stetson.
When asked what colleges like about him, House said: “They like how I’m a hard-nosed guard, a combo guard, and how I can play both sides of the ball.”
Piedmont Classical (NC) 2020 wing Evan Joyner came up huge down the stretch of his team’s 79-77 win over Monsignor Scanlon (NY), hitting the game-winner on a drive to the basket in the final seconds, and then harassing Scanlon into a 5-second call on the ensuing inbounds. He finished with 15 points. … Landon (Md.) 2020 guard Canin Reynolds poured in 32 points and hit six 3-pointers in an 81-70 win over Gilman (Md.). … Archbishop Curley (Md.) 2020 guard Caleb Johnson had 31 points in a loss to Theodore Roosevelt (DC).