Boys’ basketball: ‘Battle tested’ Central doesn’t back down

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

With the biggest game of his high school basketball career — the Maryland 1A North final — hours away Saturday morning, Central guard Davon Taylor couldn’t help but be preoccupied with thoughts and nerves and plans for the game. Problem was, Taylor and his fellow senior Dequan Smith had something else to worry about in the five hours between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday: the SATs.

“All I could think about during the test was the game,” said Taylor, the leading public school scorer in the D.C. area this year. “By the time we got to the game, I was pretty tired.”

Smith and Taylor hustled to the gym after the test to change and warm up for a 3 p.m. tip. They shook off the SAT-induced stupor in time to find themselves locked in a high-pressure, high-intensity game with the Baltimore area’s New Town, a team unafraid to get in the Falcons’ face and hassle ball-handlers up and down the court.

But the Falcons, hardened by a year spent in Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A, proved hard to frazzle. Central pressed, too, and opened up a second-half lead. Even when New Town charged back from 14 points down in the third quarter, Falcons Coach Lawrence Pugh didn’t panic, and neither did his team. After playing Potomac, Douglass, Gwynn Park and Largo on a nightly basis all season, 1A competition from New Town — a “a very tough” team, as Pugh called them — didn’t scare them.

“They went on a big run, and I didn’t call time out, I knew our guys knew what was going on,” Pugh said after Central’s 76-69 victory. “We’re battled tested. Playing in the PG 1/2/3A, we know teams make runs, and we’ve learned how to handle them.”

Central dropped classifications to 1A, placing them in the playoff pool with the smallest schools in the state despite their big-league regular-season schedule. While the move made the Falcons unfamiliar with their potential playoff foes, they battled New Town in a physical game that looked more like an old rivalry than a random playoff matchup.

Thanks to New Town’s in-your-face defensive aggression, the Falcons took 45 free throws, hitting 33. Taylor, the leading regular season scorer in Prince George’s County, was limited from the field, but he mustered enough leftover concentration from his grueling morning to hit 13 of 16 free throws, including crucial shots to ice the game in its final minutes.

The Falcons now head to Comcast and the Maryland 1A semifinal against Edmondson-Westside, the defending Maryland 2A champions who also dropped to 1A before this season.

Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.

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