Second half takeover gives No. 12 Perry Hall’s 3-peat as 4A North boys’ basketball champions; Hardnett and Walker combine for 51 (VIDEO HERE!)

Perry Hall’s LaQuill Hardnett heads upcourt as Paint Branch’s Mishi Etuaful pursues him during Saturday’s Class 4A North Region boys’ basketball championship. Hardnett finished with 26 points as No. 12 Gators rallied in the second half for an 88-75 victory over the Panthers in Montgomery County and a third straight trip to state 4A final four at the University of Maryland. (photo – Michael Wilsynski)

by Nelson Coffin

Perry Hall’s twin senior towers, 6-foot-8 Anthony Higgs and 6-9 Laquill Hardnett, welcomed a third amigo — 6-8 junior Anthony Walker —to their elite club in the Class 4A North Region final on Saturday afternoon against Montgomery County’s Paint Branch.
The three skywalkers combined for 65 points in the 12th-ranked Gators’ 88-75 triumph in Burtonsville to move on to a state 4A semifinal against Gaithersburg from Montgomery, Thursday evening at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center.
It took more than firepower, however, for the reigning state champ Perry Hall (19-6 overall) to earn its third straight regional crown.
Trailing, 46-41 at the half after a buzzer-beating three pointer by Richard Dudley, the Gators had to find out in a hurry how to slow down the Panther junior guard or their bid for a second consecutive state title was in serious jeopardy.
After all, Dudley torched Perry Hall for 25 points before the intermission.
That’s where junior guard  D. J. Cloude and senior running mate Terence Johnson came into the picture in a big way.
While the three bigs were tearing it up on the offensive end, Cloude and Johnson were making life miserable for Dudley in the second half by limiting him to eight points.
Even so, he led all scorers with 33 points, although he was quiet during Perry Hall’s game clinching 26-11 run in the third period capped by a Hardnett 3-ball that came just after a monster slam by Higgs off a Cloude’s pass off the backboard.
Hardnett, who recently verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati, seemed energized by the catcalls from Panther fans in the bleachers directly behind the Gator basket. When he knocked down that trifecta at the buzzer, it gave Perry Hall its first double-digit advantage.
“My defender didn’t come with me, so I stepped back and took the shot,” said Hardnett, who finished with a team-best 26 points. “When I hit it, it was over. I could see it in their eyes.”
The Panthers would only cut the lead back to single digits one more time, and that was on Dudley’s final three with just under three minutes remaining in regulation.
“They made a great adjustment at halftime,” said Paint Branch coach Christopher Bohlen. “And I didn’t do a very good job of countering that. We had four crucial turnovers at the end of the third quarter, and we had a tough time digging our way out of it.”
Perry Hall coach George Panageotou, whose squad went 26-2 in becoming the first Baltimore County team to win a title in the state’s largest classification in nearly 50 years last winter, said Gators didn’t have an impressive record because of a rigorous schedule early in the season.
It appears to be helping the Gators, who survived one-point decisions against Mervo and Dulaney, before gaining its biggest road victory of the season.
 “I think that we’re battle-tested and peaking at the right time,” Panageotou said. “I like how we’re playing. We just have to focus for two more games.”
Class 4A North Region boys’ basketball championship
No. 12 Perry Hall 88, Paint Branch 75
PERRY HALL: Laquill Hardnett 26, Anthony Higgs 14, Anthony Walker 25, Tyler Holley 8, Xavier Gravette 3, Terence Johnson 6, D.J. Cloude 6. TOTALS: 28 28-44 88.
PAINT BRANCH: Jordan Heard 2, Bobby Miller 17, Richard Dudley 33, Xavier Reaves 8, Jordan Alphonso 3,  Kevin Yomba 2, Chris Mayaka 10. TOTALS: 25 16-25 75.
PERRY HALL  23 18 26 21 — 88
PAINT BRANCH  22 24 11 18 —  75