In two regular season matchups, the Centennial boys basketball team dominated Howard.  The Eagles defeated the Hawks by a 17-point margin in both contests.

So entering the Class 3A East Regional quarterfinals game on Monday evening, top-seeded and host Centennial seemed to have a clear advantage. But Howard gave the Eagles all that they could handle and more.

Trailing by one point with possession of the ball and three seconds remaining on the clock, Lions’ senior guard Malcolm Tatum was called for charging and Centennial survived an upset bid by Howard, 58-57.

“Howard won three in a row coming into the game,” said Eagles coach Chad Hollewedel, who knew his team could not overlook the Lions.  “They were unconscious early, hitting all their shots…They made us fight for everything we got, which we expected coming in. We are happy to get out of here with a one-point win, that’s for sure.”

“The first two times that we played them, we got them on the good end a little bit. But since it’s the playoffs, it’s always going to be a tough,” said Centennial forward Michael Stefen (nine points).  “We just needed to come out with the win.”

Senior forward Aaron Adams scored 15 points for the Eagles (17-6 overall).  Junior guard Keonte Potts added 11, including two made free-throws with 27.1 seconds that would turn out to be the game-clinching score.

Tatum finished with a game-high 18 points to pace the Lions (6-19).  Junior forward Kendall Hawkins had 17 points and nine rebounds and Michael Alexander added nine.

In the fourth quarter, forward Matt Harbinson helped spark the Eagles with back-to-back buckets and Potts added six points in a 10-1 run that broke open a close game.  Potts’ two free-throws gave Centennial its biggest lead of the game, 56-47, with just over three minutes remaining.

Howard, as it had all night, answered the Eagles with a 10-0 run over the next 2:30 minutes to regain the lead.  The spurt included a 3-pointer from the corner by Alexander that brought the Lions within one and a pull-up jumper by Tatum that gave Howard a 57-56 advantage with 34 ticks left on the clock.

On the next possession, Potts was fouled and again sank both free-throws to reclaim the lead for Centennial.  The Lions had one lastK. Hawkins chance to win the game before Ben Goldsmith stepped in front of Tatum and drew the charge to end Howard’s chance.

“Ben is a junior and he’s been doing things like that for us all year long,” Adams said.  “He’s been locking down on defense and he came up big in the clutch when we needed him. He got the offensive charge and we came out with the win tonight.”

Adams added: “We have to start executing better on defense because the further that we get into the playoffs, the more important it’s going to be on defense. Every possession counts in the playoffs so we have to lock down on defense and keep moving forward from here.”

The game included eight ties and 13 lead changes as neither team was able to distance itself from the other.  But in the end, the name of the game in the playoffs is to survive anyway you can or go home.  The Eagles found a way to pull off the victory.

Centennial advances the semifinals round and will host either Stephen Decatur or J.M. Bennett on Wednesday.  Hollwedel knows that despite being the top-seeded team in the region, nothing will be easy in the post-season.

“We’ve got home court advantage and we’re going to see a tough team coming in from the Eastern Shore but they have to get on the bus and come out here. We earned that one seed and it means a lot right now because I would hate to have to go out there on the bus.”

Centennial 58, Howard 57
Skarbek 3, K. Hawkins 17, Wendt 6, Alexander 9, Tatum 18, Butler 4.Totals 19 15-21 57.
Goldsmith 5, Tinuoye 8, Ocadiz 1, Adams 15, Stefan 9, Potts 11, Harbinson 4, Eads 5.Totals 19 17-20 58.