Many times toward the end of practice, Chopticon senior point guard T.J. Carter will dribble the ball at the top of the key and count down the clock in his mind before taking the game's biggest shot.
The same scenario played itself again yesterday, except it was not inside an empty Chopticon gymnasium. Carter's play came on a much larger stage -- the Maryland 3A semifinals in front of 8,000 at Comcast Center -- and Carter's three-pointer with four seconds remaining forced overtime before the 12th-ranked Braves pulled out a 73-70 victory over Randallstown.
After becoming the first team from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference to prevail in a state semifinal game since 1990, Chopticon (20-2) will seek the conference's second state championship when it plays in Saturday's 3 p.m. final against Friendly. The second-ranked Patriots cruised to a 71-51 victory over No. 13 Blake.
Thomas Stone is the lone SMAC team to earn a state title, winning it all in 1972.
"Of all the shots I've made, I've never made one as big as that one," said Carter, who scored 25 of his team-best 27 points in the second half. "I've fooled around plenty of times in practice and, in my mind, go 3-2-1 and take the shot, but never in a game."
Senior center Terrell Reeves, who added seven points but fouled out with 14 points in regulation, said as soon as he saw the ball leave Carter's hands he knew the game was headed to overtime.
"I've known T.J. since we were both 4 years old, and he's been Mr. Clutch all his life," Reeves said.
"When he shoots it, especially with the game on the line, you know it's going in."
Carter began the extra session by converting a three-point play to give the Braves a 62-59 advantage. But it was sophomore guard Brandon Somerville's layup with 2 minutes 29 seconds remaining that gave the Braves a 64-62 lead they would not relinquish.
The Rams (21-2), the top-ranked team in the Baltimore area, were led by senior guard Levi Stukes, who scored a game-high 33 points.
Friendly (24-1) had little problem advancing to its first state championship game since winning its lone title in 1998. Four players scored in double figures -- led by junior center Sam Young's game-high 23 points and 14 rebounds -- to make Blake's first state tournament appearance a short one.
"That's the way we play, we have a team where everyone can score," said Friendly junior point guard Chris Howard, who finished with 12 points and six assists.
"But we haven't won anything yet, we still have one more game left."
Friendly dominated the Bengals (20-5), especially in the second half, when the Patriots outscored Blake 39-27 to extend their winning streak to 17 games. Senior forward King Miner and senior shooting guard Trevan Jackson added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Friendly.
Seniors Rusty Rulapaugh (17 points) and Sean McNeely (16) led Blake.