By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 16, 2008
When Springbrook was trailing by 18 points late in the third quarter last night, winning a state championship seemed unlikely. The seventh-ranked Blue Devils were struggling on offense, and their opponent seemed to make every shot. Their coach was desperate for any answer, and their star player conceded it just didn't look like Springbrook's night.
"I'm not going to lie, I had doubts," senior guard C.J. Garner said. "A person who doesn't, that's not being realistic. I had hope. That's what we had."
But instead of being remembered for breaking Southern Maryland's 36-year state title drought in boys' basketball, last night's Maryland 4A championship game will be remembered for one of the greatest comebacks in state history.
Springbrook chipped away at the lead before finally pulling ahead on Jamal Olasewere's layup with 1 minute 15 seconds left and held on for a 61-57 victory over 10th-ranked Thomas Stone before 4,500 at Comcast Center.
"They did not ever quit," Springbrook Coach Tom Crowell said. "That's the most amazing thing I've ever seen."
Nearly as amazing was how well Thomas Stone (24-3) played for the first three quarters. The Waldorf school led by 10 points before the end of the first quarter, by 15 at halftime and by 18 after Rodney Clark's three-point play with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Exactly what happened thereafter -- and why it occurred -- is up for debate. Thomas Stone, which had such a hot hand on offense, suddenly cooled off. The Cougars did not make another basket, their offense limited to just five free throws in the fourth quarter as Garner switched defensive assignments to guard Clark (game-high 24 points) and Springbrook also picked up its defensive effort.
"Basketball is tough," Crowell said. "There's not a lot of answers to why some things happen and some don't happen."
Although Springbrook seemed headed for defeat, the end of the third quarter also provided much-needed hope, as senior guard Mounda Williams scored seven quick points, including consecutive three-pointers from the left side and left wing. That made it 52-41, and Springbrook still trailed 54-49 when Blue Devils forward Jeremy Williams made two free throws with 4 1/2 minutes left.
It still was a five-point game when Springbrook center Ebou Touray scored on a putback and Garner made a steal and went the length of the court for a layup, cutting Thomas Stone's lead to 57-56 with 2 1/2 minutes left. Another steal, this one by Jeremy Williams, led to Garner feeding Olasewere cutting along the right baseline, and Springbrook had its first lead since the opening minutes, 58-57.
Garner (23 points) made two free throws with 28 seconds left for a three-point lead, and Thomas Stone continued to misfire at the other end. Its final three possessions resulted in three missed shots and a turnover.
"The big lead in the first half made us relax," Clark said. "I could tell that was the mind-set coming out of the locker room."