Gaithersburg ousts young Annapolis But Panthers keep poise, stay close, lose, 70-64

Class 4A boys basketball

March 13, 1998|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Freshman point guard Marcus Neal scored all 12 of his points in the final period, but they wasn't enough as No. 7-ranked Annapolis (21-7) bowed to Montgomery County's Gaithersburg, 70-64, in the Class 4A State semifinals last night.

Senior power forward Charles Johnson had game high totals of 22 points and nine rebounds as Gaithersburg earned its first trip to a state final in 40 years.

The Trojans will play Prince George's County's Oxon Hill at 8 p.m. tomorrow for the Class 4A state title. Gaithersburg (26-1) is making its fourth appearance at Cole but first since 1988.

Annapolis, state champion in 1974 and 1990, took its youngest team ever in their state-record 24 visits to Cole, but the inexperience never showed. The Panthers were incredibly poised.

"We'll be back the next couple years," said Neal. "Their defense didn't beat us. They just got too many second shots in the second half."

Gaithersburg's slight size advantage was the difference down the stretch as the Trojans scored eight times inside in the last eight minutes, including two slam dunks by the 6-foot-4 Johnson.

Neal, who had a game-high six assists, was one of four Panther underclassmen in double digits, and senior DeMarkus Green, with 10 points, was a fifth in doubles. Sophomore Thomas Hawkins led Annapolis with 16 points, followed by Neal and sophomore Marcus Johnson (12 each). Junior Kyron Belt chipped in 11 points.

Gaithersburg took a 48-43 lead into the final period, and with 4: 37 remaining it was still a five-point Trojan lead at 55-50 after a 3-pointer by Neal. The Trojans took the game's first double-digit lead at 64-54 on Johnson's lay-in with about two minutes left.

Johnson's dunk 10 seconds later made it 66-54, making a Panthers comeback unlikely. But Annapolis did get within 67-64 with 17 seconds left on Neal's second three of the period and the Panthers immediately fouled Mike Ryan.

Ryan, a senior forward, hit the back end of two for a 68-64 lead. At the other end, Hawkins missed a three-point attempt for the Panthers, and Seamus Hunt was fouled on the rebound. Hunt went to the line with six seconds left for the Trojans and sank both shots to cap the scoring.

"Annapolis stayed in the game by using a diamond-and-one defense and keeping the ball away from Ryan in the first half," said Trojan coach Paul Forninger. Ryan had six of his 17 points in the first two periods.

Both teams started slowly, but the pace soon picked up, and by midway through the first period, they were running as expected. Hawkins scored six first period points and senior Green added four to keep the Panthers close.

A spin move underneath by Hawkins tied the game at 14 with about a minute left in the first eight minutes. But the Panthers proceeded to turn it over twice with the Trojans' Cornell Hawkins and Ryan scoring on layups for an 18-14 Gaithersburg lead.

The Trojans raced out to the biggest lead of the game at six points, 21-15 and 23-17 to start the second period. Annapolis answered with a 6-0 run on a put-back by Green, a 10-footer from Hawkins and Kyron Belt's layup to tie it at 23 with 4: 51 left in the half.

Early in the third period, the Panthers caught up, getting within two at 37-35 on a pair of free throws by Hawkins. Gaithersburg then went on an 8-2 run to take the biggest lead of the game at eight points (45-37) with three minutes left.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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