Wide open on the left wing and with Central’s momentum slowly pulling the Falcons back into contention late in Friday’s Maryland 1A state semifinal, it appeared as if Davon Taylor was finally going to catch a break.
Up to that point, Central’s leading scorer had struggled to find clear looks against Edmondson’s long-armed defenders. But as Taylor’s three-pointer kissed the side of the rim, it spun around and out of the basket, again thwarting a Falcons team that proved just a few inches — and baskets — short in a 51-46 loss to defending state champ Edmondson at Comcast Center.
With their tallest player measuring 6 feet 3, the Falcons (15-8) were accustomed to facing bigger opponents like the ones featured on the Red Storm. What Central wasn’t used to was a cold hand at the foul line, where it shot 15 for 31, and a slower tempo that held Taylor to his first single-digit output of the season with seven points.
“Their length and size stagnated our offense a little bit,” said Falcons Coach Lawrence Pugh, whose team was outrebounded 48-36. “They did a good job of getting back and preventing us from running.”
After trading baskets for the first 12 minutes, the Red Storm broke open a 7-0 run to build a 29-26 halftime advantage. Gary Stewart kept the Falcons close by slicing through the gaps in Edmondson’s 1-2-2 zone and creating opportunities at the line.
“It was a disadvantage with their height,” said Stewart, who finished with 11 points, “but with speed and quickness, it wasn’t as much of a problem.”
But as the Red Storm worked to slow down the pace in the fourth quarter, the approach ignited Edmondson junior Kevin McClain. The 6-foot-5 forward found room inside to score eight straight points and helped the Red Storm build a 10-point lead with three minutes to play.
As the clock wore down and with Central breaking out its fullcourt press, the Falcons cut the deficit to 49-46 behind buckets from Dequan Smith (16 points) and Stewart’s frequent trips to the foul line. But after missing an open three and having a putback attempt blocked on their final possession, the Falcons’ bid to reach their first final in 11 years came to an end.
Though they fell short of their goal, the senior trio of Taylor, Smith and Stewart, along with their coach, fondly looked back with teary eyes on a four-year journey that started after an 0-20 mark in the 2009-10 season and culminated with Friday’s valiant effort.
“The guys at Central, we believed in ourselves when no one else did,” Pugh said. “Central basketball is here to stay because of what these guys built.”