“Why isn’t Dejuan in the game?” the fan called, asking why Dejuan Smith, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-3 senior shooting guard, sat on the bench as his team’s lead diminished in the No. 20 Scorpions’ holiday boys’ basketball tournament.
Bowie Coach Cedrick Holbrook answered, “He’s got three fouls!”
Smith’s absence was noticeable. After all, he had contributed to the early lead and, after a short stay on the bench, helped it stand with 34 points in a 72-71 Bowie win.
“He had three [fouls] and got his fourth foul in the fourth quarter, so it wasn’t that bad,” Holbrook said. “But we did have to hide him a bit because in a game like that, you can’t have your best scorer at the time on the bench.”
Holbrook qualified his “best scorer” with “at the time” because Smith and classmate Jared Gray frequently alternate in that role. Smith hit five three-pointers and seemed to finish nearly all his inside chances Friday night, combining with Gray (22 points) in a characteristically and necessarily strong showing from the Bulldogs’ back court.
“Me and Dejuan, we’ve got chemistry,” Gray said. “We know where each other’s coming from. We play off each other, feed off each other.”
“I believe in this guy,” Smith added, tossing a pat on the back to his 5-11 teammate.
Unflappable confidence is a visible part of both Gray and Smith’s games, and it became an invaluable component after the Scorpions stormed back in the third quarter.
Oakland Mills cut a 14-point halftime deficit to four midway through the third quarter, taking advantage of Bowie’s sloppiness against the half-court trap — a defense the Bulldogs had picked apart in the first half.
“I think we got complacent,” Gray said. “We were satisfied with the lead. We stopped playing hard, but we regained it.”
Gray and Smith steadied the Bulldogs, scoring 19 of their team’s 22 fourth-quarter points as the Scorpions continued to chip away at the lead.
Fittingly, after a Bowie turnover gave Oakland Mills the ball down one with 10 seconds left, it was Gray who poked the ball away from the Scorpions — and sent it right to Smith, who hung on as the final seconds ticked away and sent the Bulldogs to the final against New Town on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“I’ve told people before: I think we have one of the best back courts in [Prince George’s County],” Holbrook said. “On nights like this, it comes to fruition. But we have to keep pushing.”