Spingarn seniors Manuel Jones and Sherman Douglas looked up at the clock on the scoreboard that read one second and took a deep sigh of relief. No. 1-ranked Spingarn was close to winning its sixth game in nine days to wrap up its third Interhigh league basketball championship and a berth in the city title against the Metro Conference winner.
"This was the first of our three goals," said Douglas, the heart and soul of the senior-dominated Green Wave team that was 28-0 going into the league tournament this week at the University of the District of Columbia.
"We know we're going to play in the city game but we want to win this tournament too," Douglas said. "We don't want to go to Cole Field House on a down note."
Because of a new format established this year by the Metro Conference coaches to create new interest, the representative and runner-up that would play the top two teams in the Interhigh league Sunday at Cole Field House were not determined until this week.
DeMatha, ranked No. 2 and the favorite to make its 12th city title game appearance in 13 years, has picked up some new fans.
"We're hoping DeMatha wins. We're looking forward to playing them," said the 6-foot-5 Jones, who will be giving up several inches playing against the taller Stag front line. "We're a little tired now but we'll have a couple of days off after the tournament and we'll be ready. The biggest obstacle was winning the league. Finishing unbeaten would be great."
Likewise, DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten is looking forward to meeting the area's top-ranked team.
"They are the quickest Spingarn team I've seen," he said. "They have five great athletes and as good as Douglas is, you can't leave the other guys alone. They have great balance."
In 1980, Spingarn, led by 7-foot center Earl Jones (now playing for the L.A. Lakers), defeated DeMatha for the city title. Two years later, the Stags reversed the outcome.
Spingarn's starting back court that afternoon was Douglas and Robert Smith. The two seniors, along with Melvin Middleton, comprise Spingarn's three-guard alignment -- a smart, quick and explosive lineup that has played remarkably well all year. Teams have tried to take advantage of the 6-foot trio and ended up in trouble.
"We just try to get help underneath when that happens," Douglas said. "We are a transition team that depends on the break and turnovers. We have to play good defense and make other teams play us in a full-court game."
The Green Wave is averaging 86 points per game (as compared to DeMatha's 74) and until recently, had not really been tested. In Spingarn's first 19 games, the closest any team had come was nine points.
But some teams tried to beat the Green Wave at its own game -- run and gun. Spingarn outlasted H.D. Woodson, 92-90, in one game. The poised, confident players also erased deficits ranging from 10 to 15 points in defeating Dunbar (66-61, in double overtime), Coolidge (73-71) and Eastern (71-69) in one week.
"We needed some close games so we would know what to do when we're in those situations," Douglas said. "We've been coming from behind lately and that has helped us."
Spingarn Coach John Wood relies heavily on his back court. Douglas is the area's second-leading scorer with a 27.0 average. Smith, a successful outside shooter, averages 12 points per game and Middleton scores about eight points per game. They also account for about 25 assists and a dozen steals per game.
The fast break is Spingarn's biggest weapon. Its leading rebounders are Jones (10.0), 6-5 Anthony Ducket (10.0) and sixth man 6-6 Ernie Hall (11).
"They complement one another very well," said Wood, in his 13th season as head coach. "They've played together for a while and know one another's moves on the court."
Because the Green Wave gets so many breakaways, the team is shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. All six players possess fine outside shots and are good free-throw shooters.
Defensively, Spingarn isn't overpowering and often gives up many uncontested, easy shots. But in the crucial moments, someone always surfaces for the big defensive play. And despite its lack of a bonafide big man, Spingarn has outrebounded all of its opponents this year without a blemish on its record.