Most local boys’ basketball followers thought the Digital Harbor High backcourt of DaQuan Cook and Kevin Smith would be one of the best in the area. The combination appeared ill-conceived as the Rams struggled through an up-and-down regular season.

With the season down to a win or go home proposition, Digital Harbor is starting to look the like team that was a consensus Top 5 pick at the start of the season. The unranked Rams outlasted No. 12 Lake Clifton, 72-70, in a Class 2A North Region quarterfinal contest in east Baltimore Monday evening.

Cook, a junior guard, led Digital Harbor (12-7) with 20 points and Smith added 17. Sophomore guard Daquan Ross had a game-high 21 points for Lake Clifton (16-7) with Trae Summers and Leron Fisher finishing with 16 and 15, respectively.

Smith’s jumper with eight seconds remaining was the difference for the sixth-seeded Rams, who will travel to No. 2 seed Randallstown for a semifinal matchup Wednesday evening. Digital Harbor coach Johnnie Grimes was elated to see his backcourt come through in the clutch.

“It’s been all year I’ve been waiting for them two to play together,” said Grimes. “It was like they were feeling each other out. They really put on a performance, and that’s what I’ve been waiting for.”

“We’ve been practicing harder than at the beginning of the season, more intense, no playing around,” said Cook, who transferred to Digital Harbor from St. Frances Academy late last season but didn’t play. “We know what time it is and we’re trying to get to Comcast.”

Cook, Smith and Antonio Manns, the big three additions this season for the Federal Hill school had major contributions in a thrilling final three minutes of regulation. Trailing 62-59, Smith dropped a three-pointer from the corner, and Manns converted a free throw for the lead with 2:16 left.

Cook gave the Rams the lead back at 65-64, picking Fisher at midcourt and went in for a layup with 1:29 remaining. Fisher came right back with drive to the basket, followed by a dunk from Summers putting Lake Clifton up, 68-65, with 46 seconds remaining.

Manns (15 points) responded for Digital Harbor with a three-pointer from the top of the arch, tying the game. Cook again picked Fisher near midcourt and went in for a layup, giving the Rams a 70-68 lead with 28 seconds left in regulation.

“I just anticipated the ball. They were throwing the same type of passes the whole game,” said Cook. “In the last minute, I knew I could pick it off.”

nymee manns, antonio manns, daquan cook, kevin smithSummers tied the game with 20 seconds remaining with a putback. Cook got the ball and avoided a defensive block attempt by Aaron Parks near the sidelines and took the ball behind his back with Ross defending. Cook lost the ball and regained possession as he collided with Fisher near the foul line.

As he started to fall to the floor, Cook flipped the ball to Smith who dropped a 15-foot jumper for the lead. Smith, who transferred from Huntingtown Prep in West Virginia after starring at Baltimore Freedom Academy his sophomore year, didn’t feel any pressure.

“Me and coach [Grimes] have been working in practice,” said Smith. “It was just another shot. I took it.”

Lake Clifton called timeout with 6.9 seconds remaining after Smith’S shot. Digital Harbor called timeout with two seconds left before a restart after a kickball. Parks inbounded the ball to Cornell Henson near the foul line, but his off balanced attempt hit off the backboard glazed off the rim as the final buzzer sounded.

“They competed,” said a disappointed Lakers coach Herman Harried. “They could’ve given up but they kept fighting.”

Digital Harbor dominated play early, building a 22-10 lead with under six remaining in the first half. Lake Clifton went on a 17-5 run, capped a rebound and score by Ross, to pull even late in the second before Digital Harbor claimed a 31-27 halftime advantage.

The second half was back and forth with Digital Harbor taking a 50-45 advantage into the fourth. The Rams led 59-56 midway after Cook grabbed a missed Laker free throw and went coast-to-coast for a layup before Lake Clifton scored the next six, with a Summers’ three-point play and Fisher going in for a score, for a 62-59 advantage with 3:18 remaining.

But the Rams didn’t flinch as Nymee Manns provided solid inside play with 10 points and nine rebounds. Once an enigmatic afterthought back in Janaury, Digital Harbor is now a win away from the Class 2A Elite Eight.

“They’re still kids and you have outsiders putting things in their heads, ‘you can do this and you can do that,’” said Grimes. “But you can’t do it by yourself, it’s got to be a team effort.”