Kuony Deng couldn’t help but smile. The lanky Champe forward was heading to the free throw line with 53 seconds left in the third quarter, having just been fouled underneath the basket after yet another offensive rebound. His team led unbeaten Lake Braddock by just one point, but Deng seemed to sense that no one would deny him a victory on this night.
Despite giving up two inches and considerable pounds to Lake Braddock big man James Butler, Deng took firm control of the paint during several crucial stretches Tuesday night to finish with 32 points and six blocks. The 6-foot-6 senior’s dominance on both ends helped Champe hand host No. 11 Lake Braddock a 75-65 defeat in the Glory Days Grill Tournament of Champions final in Burke.
“Offensively we’ve got a lot of scorers, so I’m not going to get 32 every night,” said Deng, who was named tournament MVP one night after he scored 19 points in a semifinal win over Langley. “A lot of times I’ll be the defensive guy; a lot of times I’ll be the guy hitting the boards. Sometimes I’ve got to be the guy scoring the points.”
Deng rarely guarded Butler man-to-man, instead opting to stay out of foul trouble and rack up blocks and rebounds as a help-side defender. Senior forwards Sean Prendergast and Owen Cosenke switched off on the Bruins’ bruising center, who ended the night with a game-high 35 points and 12 rebounds.
“We knew he was going to be big and be physical,” Deng said. “We just tried to be physical back. That’s all we can do.”
Butler was the only Bruin to hit double figures Tuesday, as second-half foul trouble prevented Lake Braddock’s guards from finding any sort of rhythm. Junior guard Corey Pelham, who averages 18 points per game, went 0 for 8 from three-point territory to finish with a season-low eight points.
In a game that featured 14 lead changes, Lake Braddock (8-1) maintained the upper hand through most of the first half. The Bruins’ vaunted full-court press forced 10 Champe turnovers in the first quarter, but the Knights (6-1) had only four turnovers in the second half.
“We haven’t been pressed all year, so we were kind of getting the jitters out and getting used to it,” said Champe senior Zach Burdick, who racked up 21 points. “We calmed down coming out in the second knowing what they were doing, so that helped us a lot.”
Champe was the aggressor after halftime. Like they did in the previous night’s semifinal against Langley, the Knights came out of the locker room with a full-court press that flustered Lake Braddock’s guards into turnovers, fouls and rushed shots.
Even after O’Connell transfer Dom Fragala (nine points) exited the game following his second technical foul late in the third quarter, Lake Braddock was unable to handle an onslaught of pressure that produced a steady stream of transition buckets.
“We wanted to run them off the floor,” Champe Coach Bill Maher said. “We thought we were better athletes, so that worked for us.”