Chopticon made a habit of hitting buzzer-beating shots in its run through the Maryland 3A boys' basketball tournament. It continued Saturday night in the Braves' 66-57 championship loss to Friendly.
Chopticon trailed by 12 points late in the third quarter and were looking to cut the Patriots' lead to single digits before the start of the final quarter. With five seconds remaining, Chopticon worked the ball into the trusty hands of senior guard T.J. Carter, who had been unstoppable throughout the playoffs.
Carter had made two last-second shots in Chopticon's semifinal upset of Randallstown two nights earlier, including one at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime. But this time, instead of heaving the final shot himself, Carter passed to his cousin, junior forward Charles Carter, who stood alone on the left wing.
Charles Carter immediately responded with his fourth three-pointer of the game, trimming the Patriots' lead to 52-43 and sending the more than 10,000 fans at Comcast Center into a frenzy.
"It was just trust, I guess," T.J. Carter said. "He was open, and I knew he'd knock it down."
Charles Carter did more than just hit that single shot. On the biggest stage of the year he turned in one of his best performances, totaling 18 points, a team-high eight rebounds and two steals.
The only other underclassman in the Braves' starting lineup, sophomore guard Brandon Somerville, also played well. Though Somerville scored just five points, he added five rebounds, two blocks and an assist and made just one turnover.
"They both played very aggressive," T.J. Carter said. "Even though Brandon's still young, he brought his A-game and I respect that. Next year he and Charles will be carrying the team, so I think it's good that they performed like they did in this atmosphere, in such a big game like this."
Charles Carter and Somerville said they never talked about Saturday's game being their last with senior starters T.J. Carter, Jonathan Pease and Terrell Reeves, but both said it weighed on their minds.
Charles Carter, who also was a starter on last year's team that was blitzed by 31 points by Frederick Douglass of Baltimore in the state semifinal, said he did not want this year's seniors going home with the same feelings that former point guard M.J. Estep had last season.
"I kept thinking about last year," Carter said. "I remember going home and just praying that we'd have the chance to come back here. I knew this time if I left this building with a loss it would be knowing that I had tried my best and had done everything possible to send these guys out with a win."
The future of the Braves' program rests on the shoulders of Carter and Somerville.
"If Charles and Brandon have learned anything from these seniors, and this goes back to M.J., is that it's hard work that achieves things, not just talent," Coach Rich O'Donnell said. "There's no question we're losing a lot, but I think we have a good nucleus coming back, too. I don't know if we'll be as good as we have been and, really, I'm not sure we can be. I think this team will go down as one of the best ever in the SMAC."
The challengers are poised throughout the league, all eyeing the places the Braves have been the past two seasons.
"I plan on being back here," Somerville said Saturday. "Two more times, I hope."