A long ride home one year ago was all the motivation Freedom senior guard Cameron Long needed entering a AAA Northwestern Region quarterfinal against Franklin County on Tuesday night at home.
Long played point guard on Tuesday and got everyone involved -- not least himself. He finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocked shots in a 72-56 victory.
Afterward, he reflected on the four-hour trip home following a season-ending loss to Franklin County in the playoffs last season.
"With the confidence and heart we had going down there and then getting upset -- it wasn't a good feeling at all," said Long, who has signed with George Mason.
With that motivation, Long and seventh-ranked Freedom built a 24-point lead early in the third quarter.
"It's so difficult to travel five or six hours and get up to play right away," Freedom Coach Ahmad Dorsett said of his team's 91-78 loss last season.
"Our kids fought hard, and we just couldn't come up with it at the end. With the mature team we have now, they do well in holding their composure and coming out and executing."
Tuesday's victory was particularly meaningful considering that Franklin County (16-9) had beaten Potomac, 77-68, earlier this season.
The Eagles (19-4) defeated Potomac twice en route to the Cardinal District title, but both games were close.
Freedom's play was inspired throughout Tuesday's game.
On offense, the Eagles cut fearlessly through the lane and rebounded relentlessly. On defense, Freedom was a nuisance in passing lanes and repeatedly blocked shots inside.
The Eagles outrebounded Franklin County, the No. 2 seed from the Western Valley District, 47-37; that includes a 26-10 advantage in offensive rebounds.
Most important, perhaps, was the contribution they got from reserves such as Sadonis Davis (eight points, eight rebounds), Stephen Wing (four points, seven rebounds) and Brandon McLilly (10 points, two three-pointers).
"Sometimes the starters will struggle, and if the bench can't come in and help us, it's really not a team," Long said.
Said Dorsett: "Offensively and defensively, we were able to dictate what we wanted to happen."
Starters Craig Hayes (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Jaren Haley (10 points, 5 steals) both scored in double figures, and six players scored eight or more points.
Long made two plays that drew a loud reaction from fans.
In the second quarter, Long dribbled on the perimeter, abruptly switched directions behind his back -- a move that caused his defender to trip -- then sank a three-pointer.
In the third quarter, with a defender playing close, Long zipped a no-look pass from half court to Hayes, who caught the ball and scored on a layup.
In all, the Eagles showed just why they might be the deepest and most athletic team still playing in the state. A win on the road tonight in the region semifinals will clinch the Eagles' first berth in the AAA state tournament in the third season of the program.
"How they did us" last year, Long said, "there was no way we were going out like that again."