Lake Clifton High boys’ basketball team is headed back to the state finals, thanks to three quarters of work. Literally.
The No. 5 Lakers ousted 15th ranked South Carroll, 46-34, in a Class 2A semifinal contest at Comcast Center Friday evening.
Senior guard James Boone scored 13 points for Lake Clifton (23-3), and Daquan Ross and Cortell Henson combined for 20 points and eight rebounds. Gavin McTavish led South Carroll (21-5) with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The east Baltimore school outscored the Carroll County power, 32-20, over the final 16 minutes to earn a date with Largo Saturday at 6 p.m. at Comcast Center for the state championship.
But most of the talk late Friday evening was about eight minutes and what little happened. In one of the most interesting strategies in recent state Final Four memory, Lake Clifton held the ball for nearly the entire second quarter as South Carroll held vigilant in a 2-3 zone defense.
As one state tournament official said afterwards, “It was a battle of wills.”
“We play to win and not impress people, and if the score is 2-1 Lake Clifton — as long as its 2-1 Lake Clifton — that’s all we care about,” said Lake Clifton coach Herman Harried. “[The Cavaliers] were so poised they didn’t come out of it and we were poised enough in what we were trying to do and everybody was stubborn.”
“It was a little bit different,” said South Carroll coach Doug Goff. “I wasn’t expecting them to do it that early. I don’t blame them for doing what they thought they had to do to win.”
The Lakers finally ran a play with under 15 seconds remaining in the second, but Boone was called out of bounds as he attempted a three-pointer from the corner in the front of the Cavaliers bench. After the ensuing inbounds, Ross swiped the ball away, but with his momentum taking him out of bounds near midcourt, he threw the ball back into play.
Dan Mullen got the ball for South Carroll, and found McTavish on the wing. The 6-foot-6 forward hit a three-pointer before the buzzer, tying the game at 14. With momentum shifted, Lake Clifton remained confident.
“I didn’t see any concern or doubt as they went to the locker room,” said Harried, whose team was held to a season-low in points. “Their intensity was still up.”
Trailing 17-16 early in the third quarter, Lake Clifton got consecutive baskets from Henson (10 points) and a score from senior guard Aaron Parks in a 6-0 run to claim a 22-17 advantage. South Carroll relieved its zone, and Lake Clifton slowly began wearing down the Cavaliers’ off the dribble.
“Their zone defense was hard to get them out of it, but we once we got up, they had to come out,” said Harried, “because I was going to hold it for another seven minutes.”
After an intentional foul on South Carroll to start the fourth, Parks converted a free throw and Ross followed with a runner in the lane, extending the Lakers’ lead to 31-22. A layup by Henson made it 41-27 with 2:28 remaining in regulation.
Lake Clifton limited the Cavaliers to three of 12 shooting in the final period with five turnovers in the final quarter. The Lakers converted 16 of 19 free throws in the second half (17-of-20 for game).
“They made their shots in the third quarter against some good defense on our part,” said Goff. “They made off the dribble shots which we wanted them to do. They got a lead on us and we went out there. They’re tough to guard.”
After overcoming South Carroll, Lake Clifton have another intriguing challenge in the title game against Largo, which eliminated Easton, 61-44, in Friday’s other semifinal. The Lions from Prince George’s County like to play an up tempo style with guards who can score from the perimeter.
A year after being eliminated in the final seconds by eventual state champs Digital Harbor in the North Region quarterfinals, Lake Clifton has the opportunity to become just the third team in state tournament history to win a championship in three different classifications.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Boone.