Eleanor Roosevelt senior Malachi Alexander took a backdoor bounce pass from teammate Jesse Ason in stride and squared his shoulders to the basket. With just seconds remaining in Wednesday’s Prince George’s County championship game against No. 8 Potomac (Md.), the 6-foot-7 forward’s next move would be the difference between a victory celebration and overtime.
Alexander didn’t have time to think twice. He rose for a one-handed dunk just before a help defender arrived and the backboard flashed red, signaling the end of regulation. The emphatic slam delivered a 69-67 comeback win at Wise High in Upper Marlboro in sixth-ranked Eleanor Roosevelt’s first appearance in the county title game since the event began in 2004.
“I was looking to dunk it before the play even started,” said Alexander, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. “I was making the decision between one hand or two hands.”
Eleanor Roosevelt (22-1) needed a late burst to get the final opportunity after chasing the Wolverines (18-3) for most of the second half.
The Wolverines led by as many as 11 points in the second half thanks to a strong showing by freshman Randall Broddie (17 points) in the middle quarters, but the Raiders closed the gap in the fourth, snapping Potomac’s 15-game winning streak.
Ason (10 points) hit a free throw with 59 seconds left to give Eleanor Roosevelt its first lead of the second half at 67-66. After Potomac’s Dion Wiley tied it again 31 seconds later, Eleanor Roosevelt used two full timeouts to discuss the final shot.
The play Coach Brendan O’Connell drew up included a series of backdoor cuts. Alexander might have had a chance to hit senior Tiwian Kendley darting to the hoop, but he instead kicked to Ason and broke toward the basket alone to throw down the winning basket. Teammates mobbed Alexander before O’Connell accepted the championship trophy, which the school had never claimed despite winning five region titles in the past seven seasons.
“That might be the best finish in, I’m sure, the history of Roosevelt and maybe the history of this [county title] game,” O’Connell said. “Or one of the best finishes in basketball. That was crazy.”
Alexander, a Holy Cross recruit, scored a team-best six points in the fourth quarter and had help bringing the team back from Kendley, who hit a pair of game-tying shots down the stretch.
Meantime, Wiley, one of the area’s most highly coveted juniors, finished with a team-high 20 points, taking charge of his team late with seven in the final quarter.
Earlier at Wise, the Gwynn Park girls went right after previously unbeaten Eleanor Roosevelt with their signature trapping press and held on down the stretch for a 70-58 victory. In ending the sixth-ranked Raiders’ unbeaten run, the Yellow Jackets claimed their first girls’ county title since 2005.
Junior Takayla Ellis scored a team-high 16 points and Gwynn Park forced 19 turnovers in the first half, building a lead 21-point lead in the third quarter.
The press “gave us a lot of momentum,” said senior Genesis Lucas, who added 11 of her 15 points after halftime. “After we was turning them over left and right, we just knew that if we kept doing what we was doing, we’d be all right.”
Eleanor Roosevelt (21-1) struggled to match Gwynn Park’s pace early, falling behind for good in the second quarter when the Yellow Jackets outscored the Prince George’s 4A champs, 26-8. The Raiders crept back in the fourth quarter but never trimmed the lead to less than eight points.
Gwynn Park (19-3) lost its regular season finale to Friendly last week and also dropped last year’s county title game to Wise, but on Wednesday, the Yellow Jackets assured they will head into the playoffs with momentum. Meantime, Eleanor Roosevelt, which was led by 16 points from freshman Kaila Charles, will try to learn from its troubles handling the pressure.
“I’ve got a whole lot of coaching to do starting tomorrow.” Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Delton Fuller said. “You don’t know what you’re going to see in the playoffs.”