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February 13, 2018

Frederick uses late run to top scrappy Lakers

Garrett overcomes cold first half to take lead before falling

Frederick Community College's 10-point halftime cushion Sunday afternoon seemed quite comfortable given that the host Lakers made a grand total of eight first-half shots. One person who wasn't lulled into overconfidence, however, was FCC head men's basketball coach Emonte Hill.

"Our mentality is that we know good basketball teams are going to make runs, and we knew Garrett wasn't going to quit," said Hill, who was absolutely right.

The Lakers, held to 19 first-half points, got nearly that many in an 18-0 scoring spree that included four treys and a traditional three-point play that quickly turned a 36-22 deficit into a 40-36 advantage. Frederick, however, wasn't fazed by that streak – or playing without two starters – finishing the game with a 14-1 run that allowed the Cougars to pull out a 65-52 victory.

The Cougars (21-3 overall, 12-2 Maryland JuCo) didn't take the lead for good until Chris Knight's inside layup with 4:42 left broke a 51-51 tie. Ariel Watson hit the first of two free throws with 4:12 remaining to pull GC within 53-52, but the Lakers (13-10, 5-9) wouldn't score again.

"We wanted our defense to set the tone," said Hill, whose team's defense and Garrett's ice-cold shooting down the stretch combined to foil the Lakers' upset bid.

After Shakil Smith's inside layup stretched FCC's lead to 55-52, Watson (team-high 16 points) missed two shots – including an open potential game-tying trey – on Garrett's next possession. The Lakers then got a defensive stop, but Jermaine Samuel (15 points) missed his own open potential game-tying 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining.

Ben Meredith, who scored a game-high 20 points, converted a driving layup to stretch the Cougars' advantage to 57-52 before Watson missed another trey. Keon Claiborne scored half of his 12 points in the final 72 seconds, four on free throws, to seal the deal for FCC.

"They're the No. 1 seed in our region because they're balanced and they play really good defense," Garrett head coach Dennis Gibson said of the Cougars.

Frederick won with sophomore starting guards Morris Robinson and Dashon Bell held out as a precautionary measure.

"They're both nicked up and we were already locked into the third seed in the Maryland JuCo tournament," explained Hill. "All season we've trusted the ‘next-man-up' philosophy and that's what we did today."

That philosophy looked solid in the first half as Frederick opened the game with a 14-4 spurt that Dwayne Garner (12 points) started and finished with 3-pointers. Kenneth Stancell, Jr. (6 points) had two inside layups during the Cougars' early surge.

While Frederick quickly cooled off, the Lakers never heated up in the first half. Garrett didn't break double digits until Vincent Collins' 3-pointer with 9:31 left in the half, which pulled the Lakers within 16-11.

The Lakers were still within five points, 22-17, after Malik Tillman (6 points) bagged a 3-pointer with 4:42 remaining in the half. Frederick, however, restored its 10-point cushion (29-19) by finishing the half with a 7-2 streak that included five points from Meredith.

Garrett's horrendous first-half offensive performance was due in large part to Watson's foul trouble. The sophomore guard picked up two fouls in the first four minutes and didn't play again before halftime.

"We probably depend on Ariel too much for our offense, so it hurt us when he picked up two fouls in four minutes," observed Gibson.

Frederick took its largest lead of the game, 36-22, on a Garner floater with 16:34 remaining in the contest. Garrett responded with 18 straight points, with Watson and Samuel each nailing a pair of treys.

The Lakers took their first lead, 37-36, on Watson's driving layup on the left side of the lane with 13:27 to play. Just 22 seconds later, Nicolas Osborne converted a driving layup on the right side of the lane into a three-point play that gave GC its largest lead of the contest, 40-36.

The Cougars responded with a 7-0 streak, capped by Knight's 3-pointer with 11:34 remaining to give Frederick a 43-40 advantage. All told, there were eight second-half lead changes, the last coming on Knight's layup that broke the 51-51 stalemate.

The Cougars weren't the only ones dealing with injuries. Simun Kovac – Garrett's 6-foot-8 sophomore forward who is one of the top inside players in the league when healthy – is trying to play his way back into game shape.

"Simun is one of the best rebounders in the state when he's healthy," observed Gibson. "When we don't have him, it puts a lot of pressure on Liu [Repsys] to do everything inside."

The Lakers will get a chance to rest and get healthy with a two-week break before finishing the regular season with road contests at Allegany College of Maryland (Feb. 25), Potomac State College (Feb. 28) and Northern Virginia Community College (March 5). They will then participate in the NJCAA Division II Region XX tournament March 9-11 at Cecil College, where FCC is the likely top seed.

GC 97, Chesapeake 62

For quite a while it was a fair question as to whether the Lakers would break the 40-point barrier against visiting Chesapeake College Saturday afternoon. So how in the name of James Naismith did they end up with the ball and chance to reach the century mark in what became a blowout win over the Skipjacks?

It's amazing what a confidence-inspiring, 15-0 scoring blitz can accomplish.

Both teams started ice-cold, with Chesapeake nosing in front, 13-11, on Anthony Tate's layup with 7:39 left in the half. Chesapeake's pressure defense gave the Lakers trouble early, particularly on the wings where the Skipjacks were constantly double-teaming the ball.

Seemingly out of nowhere, however, the Lakers responded with their 15-0 spree behind a red-hot Ariel Watson. The sophomore guard started the run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, putting Garrett ahead to stay, and scored the final seven points of the surge, helping the Lakers finished the first half with a 43-24 cushion.

"We were able to make the right reads and finish plays," Watson, who scored 22 of his game-high 34 points in the first half, said of the game-turning run. "When they're pressing like that, you have to make them pay for it."

"He's a volume scorer," Garrett head coach Dennis Gibson said of Watson. "When he gets in that rhythm where he feels like he's got it going, he's really dangerous. He's done that all year, but especially the second semester where we've really needed his scoring [due to injuries and ineligible players] to be competitive."

Gibson also cited the role played by reserve guard Nelson Richardson, which had nothing to do with his 8 points and everything to do with his attitude.

"Nelson really sparked us with his energy," observed Gibson, whose Laker had lost three straight and six-of-eight. "He came in and dove for that loose ball and guys got up and were cheering. That changed the game."

Malik Tillman added 11 points, while Vincent Collins scored 9 for the Lakers. Liutauras Repsys (2 points) pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds for Garrett.

Chesapeake twice pulled within 17 points early in the second half, the second time on a Terehk Agnew layup that made it 51-34, but the Lakers answered with a 7-0 run. Jermaine Samuel (19 points) nailed a 3-pointer and Ray Hinton (14 points, 7 assists) converted a pair of layups as Garrett stretched its lead to 58-34.

Garrett took a 64-38 lead on a jumper by Richardson before Tate single-handedly tried to make a game of it. Tate, who finished with a team-high 29 points for the Skipjacks, scored 10 straight Chesapeake points in one stretch, but couldn't get the Skipjacks closer than 20.

Nate Avery scored 13 points for Chesapeake to join Tate in double digits.

Both teams struggled offensively at the start. The game was nearly four minutes old before Chesapeake scored, and the Skipjacks didn't reach double figures until Jordan Alston's hoop with exactly eight minutes left in the first half.

Since Garrett was nearly as cold, Alston's basket created an 11-11 tie and set the stage for Tate's go-ahead layup. The entire complexion of the game changed, however, with Garrett's Watson-infused, 15-0 run.

"We got on that 15-0 run early and were able to maintain the lead after that," said Watson, who scored all 34 of his points in the final 31 minutes.

At the end, the Lakers had the ball with plenty of time on the clock and 97 points on the scoreboard, but Gibson yelled out, "No shot" and the Lakers ran out the clock.

Gibson praised the play of the drastically improved Skipjacks (7-17, 5-9). Chesapeake, coming off a one-win season last year, was in content for a state tournament berth until losing to Garrett on Saturday in their conference finale.

"We were hoping to get into the tournament, but we were just so cold at the start," said Chesapeake head coach Allen Mitchell.

"That team's much better than last year," said Gibson. "They really hurt us on the boards. If we play that game at their place, where they're more comfortable shooting, I don't know if we win."