Second-ranked North Point appeared on its way to the first state championship in 39 years for a team from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference. Then the Eagles saw their undefeated season nearly derailed late in the second half, when they blew a 16-point lead and fell behind.
But in the final minutes, North Point showed plenty of poise. Senior guard Gerel Simmons converted a three-point play and made four consecutive free throws, then sophomore center Naim Muhammad made a layup that helped the Eagles run out the clock on a thrilling 76-72 victory over Patterson of Baltimore in the Maryland 4A championship game before 11,300 at Comcast Center.
“I was frustrated [at losing the big lead] but I knew I couldn’t lose my composure,” Simmons said. “I told the team we couldn’t lose our composure. We were down, but it wasn’t over.”
At game’s end, perhaps nobody was more exuberant than North Point Coach Jimmy Ball. While his players mobbed each other near the middle of the court, Ball sprinted to a section of North Point students seated behind one basket with his right arm in the air.
“This is huge for our community,” Ball said. “This school is only four years old. . . . [Finishing] 27-0, a state championship — it doesn’t get any better than that.
“This is a moment I will never forget.”
Muhammad matched his career high with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Simmons had 19 points.
It was an exciting finish to a game that North Point controlled until the middle of the third quarter.
The Eagles led, 31-23, after a hotly contested first half, then built on the lead when play resumed. Muhammad, who entered averaging 10 points, was strong inside.
And while Patterson sophomore guard Aquille Carr clearly was the game’s star attraction, North Point’s undersized sophomore guard Marquis Wright showed that he had plenty of game too, finishing with nine points and 12 assists.
When Carr led Patterson’s second-half run, turning a 47-31 deficit into a 68-65 lead with less than three minutes left, North Point had one more answer.
Wright pushed the ball up the court and passed to Simmons, who was fouled while scoring and converted a game-tying three-point play. A layup by Muhammad tied it at 70. Then a pair of steals led to four free throws by Simmons and the undefeated season was complete. Carr, who was 1 for 15 in the first half, finished 9 for 32 from the field for 27 points.
“We didn’t change a thing,” Ball said. “We doubled when we were supposed to. We made [Carr] work. I think he was tired at the end. He got 27, not 43 like he’s been getting. Defense won the game tonight, it wasn’t our offense.”