The Tigers knew Ekeanyanwu could give more than his 15 points per game average, leading teammates to ride him harder during practice and his coach to pull him aside for a talk before Friday’s big game against No. 12 Parkdale.
“I told him he was taking a back seat to Michael [Cunningham] when he didn’t have to because they both are capable of putting up big numbers,” Tigers Coach Lafayette Dublin said. “I told him I expected more out of him, to step up this game and he answered that challenge.”
It didn’t take long for Ekeanyanwu to offer his response Friday, as he scored 16 of his game-high 36 points in the first quarter to spark the Tigers to an 85-78 upset of the Panthers in Riverdale.
“I’ve been waiting for this game because I knew they would key in on Michael and my team has been challenging me, saying I should score 30 every night,” said the senior swingman, who also had 10 rebounds. “I just was feeling it.”
While Ekeanyanwu sizzled from the field, the Panthers came out cold. Kaine Wilson’s three-pointer marked Parkdale’s lone field goal in a first quarter that ended with the Tigers up 20-3.
Frequent trips to the foul line allowed the Panthers (9-1, 5-1 Prince George’s 4A) to trim the lead to 13 at halftime, but Ekeanyanwu started the second half as he did the first, scoring 12 straight points to push DuVal back up, 46-28. The Tigers (7-2, 4-2) also received increased production from their leading scorer in Cunningham. The Paul VI junior transfer scored all 20 of his points in the second half after being hampered by early foul trouble.
“We’ve been telling Charles to go all out and score, so when I got those three fouls in the first half, he really stepped up and showed what he could do,” Cunningham said.
A Cunningham drive gave DuVal a 73-52 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Panthers refused to bow out quietly in front of their home crowd. Behind five three-pointers and 11 missed free throws by the Tigers, Parkdale stormed back to within eight points with just over a minute remaining. But the early hole built by their slow start proved too much for the Panthers, who watched the Tigers seal their seventh straight win with two Paris Jones free throws and a Cunningham layup.
“We’ve been through a lot and had some tough heartbreakers,” said Dublin, whose team started 0-2. “But losing will wake you up and we’ve really worked on coming together and playing to our potential of late.”