Brandon Russell was a little disappointed coming off the bench for Douglass at the beginning of the season. One of three holdovers with playing experience from last year's 28-0 boys basketball team, Russell had hoped to gain a starting spot.
But the senior forward has found his niche as sixth man, and last night he helped lead top-ranked Douglass to a 64-55 victory over visiting and No. 4 Mervo before a packed house.
The non-divisional Baltimore City victory lifted Douglass' record to 17-0 this season and extended its winning streak to 45 games.
Senior center Charles Brooks scored a game-high 24 points for Douglass. Paul Frazier led the Mustangs (14-5) with 17 points and 13 rebounds and senior guard Joseph Marshall contributed 15 points.
Russell, 6 feet 3, scored 12 points, all of them coming at seemingly opportune moments for the defending city and Class 3A state champion, which survived its second-toughest challenge in city competition.
Last month, the Ducks had to rally from a five-point deficit in the closing minutes to beat Lake Clifton.
"We knew they weren't going to lay down and let us take this one," Russell said of Mervo. "This is our home court and everybody is gunning for us. We're 45-0 now, but Mervo made us realize that we have to play up to the level of our competition."
With Douglass holding a 44-41 lead with under six minutes remaining, Russell put the ball on the floor and drove to the middle for a basket. Devine Morris then followed a miss by Brooks, increasing the Ducks' advantage to 48-41 with 5:06 left.
The Ducks continued pulling away with a 6-0 spurt, turning a 48-43 lead into a 54-43 bulge, with Russell taking an alley-oop pass from Morris for a dunk to start it.
Douglass coach Rodney Coffield said Russell has raised the level of his play in the past month.
"He's been our catalyst," Coffield said. "We look to him to go to the glass, and everybody's got a lot of confidence in him. He's playing real well, and I go to him immediately."
Russell had a highlight-reel moment in the second quarter, going up for a pass from Daryl Clark and slamming it with his left hand, giving Douglass a 17-11 lead. The Ducks built a 28-18 margin before Mervo closed to 30-25 at halftime.
A three-pointer by Marshall brought the Mustangs within two, starting sloppy third-quarter performances by both squads. Mervo missed 18 of 22 shots in the period, and Douglass was 4-for-17, but the Ducks never trailed yesterday.
"We beat ourselves," said Frazier, an All-City/County first-team pick last year. "They made mistakes; we made mistakes. We didn't capitalize on their mistakes."