* Chopticon 51, Northern 42

Chopticon senior guard T.J. Carter thought that his team needed a cushion.

Never mind that his team held a two-point lead with less than a minute to play against Northern, the only unbeaten team in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference headed into the game. Or that without a shot clock, Chopticon could have run time off the clock or forced the Patriots to foul.

Carter wasn't having any of that.

The league's second-leading scorer instead launched a three-pointer from four feet beyond the arc with 56 seconds left on the clock.

"It was one of those things where, as a coach, I was thinking, 'What the hell is he doing?' " Northern Coach Rick Weber said. "He was a good four feet back so we weren't up on him. I just thought they were going to spread us out and make us foul."

Carter's fifth three-pointer -- and second in a span of 31 seconds -- propelled the Braves to a 51-42 victory. It also left Chopticon, Northern and Thomas Stone tied for first place atop the SMAC with one conference loss apiece.

Chopticon (11-2, 8-1 SMAC) will play host to Thomas Stone, which won their December meeting with a last-second tip-in, on Wednesday.

"That was one of those shots that I'd rather have had back, even though it ended up working in our favor," Chopticon Coach Rich O'Donnell said of Carter's launch. "We had the lead and really didn't need it at that point. But at the same time, he's a good enough shooter to do that, so he has the green light with us."

Carter said, "I just felt like we needed the cushion. I was off-and-on shooting tonight, but as a senior and a leader it was a shot I felt like I had to make. I was wide open . . . and I knew if I took it, I had to knock it down."

Carter's dramatics put an end to a furious rally by the Patriots. Northern fell behind by as many as 18 points in the second quarter but narrowed the gap to two, 44-42, with 1:14 to play. The Patriots (11-4, 8-1) clawed their way back by playing tough defense and getting Chopticon senior forward Terrell Reeves into foul trouble.

The Braves, who rarely go to their bench, were forced to sit Reeves for about four minutes in the third and fourth quarters. Chopticon led by 13 when he left the game and by only three when he returned.

"This is a tough team, a scrappy team, especially at home," O'Donnell said of Northern. "They play very good defense. We added to it a little by not shooting the ball very well tonight, but they are very deserving to be where they are."

Neither team shot well, with the Braves making 37 percent from the field and the Patriots 33 percent. Northern's 20-percent shooting in the first half contributed heavily to Chopticon's big early lead.

"I think we were a little too excited," Weber said. "We missed shots by a foot over the rim. It was horrible. But what I'm excited about is that the guys didn't give up. We got down and could have just decided we were out of it, but instead we kept fighting and chipping away."

Carter led all scorers with 21 points, and Reeves added 11. Senior forward Phil Howell paced Northern with 18 points, including two three-pointers.

"I think maybe people underestimate them, but our team didn't," said Carter, who last week surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his high school career. "We knew they weren't in first place for nothing. We just wanted a share of that first place, too."

Chopticon's T.J. Carter launches a three-pointer over Chris Morrow, one of five he converted. Carter scored 21 points, including a key basket near game's end.Chopticon's Brandon Somerville is fouled by Northern's Danny Sydnor while attempting a breakaway layup in the first half. The Braves took an 18-point lead before the Patriots rallied furiously, at one point closing to within two.Jonathan Pease, right, is fouled by Northern's Kyle Parker as he goes to the hoop for Chopticon.