New Town not strung up over misstep in regional

On High Schools

High Schools

March 07, 2006|By MILTON KENT

By the time the New Town boys basketball team takes the Comcast Center floor Friday for its state semifinal game, the Titans hopefully will have taken a couple of minutes to work on post-championship protocol, especially the part about cutting down the nets.

In the delirium after their Class 1A North regional final win Saturday over Elkton, the Titans got everyone up on the ladder to slice the twine off the rims. Everyone, that is, except for coach Michael Smith, who got to the basket a little late to get some string.

It really didn't matter to Smith, who walked back and forth along the court in a joyous daze, as if the first good pinch on his shoulder would awaken him from the best dream ever.

"I'm just so happy," Smith said. "They played their hearts out every game and I feel like I'm out there with them."

To nail down the Titans' first ever appearance in College Park, Smith may have felt he literally had to be out on the floor with New Town, as the team struggled mightily to beat the Golden Elks, who opened the game with an 11-2 spurt, placing the home-standing Titans on their heels.

New Town, the region's top seed, missed its first four three-point attempts Saturday. For an undersized team like the Titans who live and die by the outside jumper, that kind of cold spell on the biggest stage can make for a long day.

"We got off to a slow start because we weren't playing as a team," freshman guard Stuart Clarke said. "When we started playing team ball, we started knocking down shots. Playing team ball makes it easier. We weren't looking for good shots. We were doing one pass and shoot. You do about five or six passes to get you into a rhythm. That's when we started knocking down shots."

Once the Titans found the aforementioned rhythm, things started to click, or at least for a quarter. That's when senior Corin Henry, the team's leading scorer, went to work. Henry, a senior, had a brilliant second period, with 12 of his 24 points on a variety of shots.

"I think he's a Division I talent or a Division II," Smith said of Henry. "He's probably one of the quicker players in the area. He can shoot and he's got heart. He's got an Energizer bunny in him."

Henry made a three-pointer from about 24 feet out to tie the score at 19 early in the quarter, then converted off a steal on the ensuing possession to give New Town its first lead. With 45.3 seconds left in the period, Henry found a sliver of a gap in the back of Elkton's 2-3 zone, laid it in and was fouled, winding up on his fanny. He converted the free throw and the Titans led by four en route to a seven-point halftime advantage.

"We started off slow. We were cold, but once we started hitting shots and playing defense, things got better," Henry said. "Defense is the reason we won. It wasn't nerves. We had to pick each other up from missing shots. Defense wins games. I played aggressive. I drove and kicked. All we had to do was knock down shots."

But the Titans, in their second varsity season with only four seniors on their roster, couldn't live with prosperity and went cold again, missing nine straight shots to start the third quarter, and were fortunate to trail by only one heading into the fourth.

The teams traded ties and leads until sophomore Robbie Tucker picked off a pass and took it for a layup to give New Town a 51-50 lead with 4:50 left. Then Henry nailed a three-pointer with 4:04 to go for a four-point lead.

"We're like Villanova," Smith, in his first season after taking over for Steve Baker, said. "We have to scrap and hustle. We're in your face with defense. We play so hard and we're going to give up some layups sometimes, but we feel we're going to get more turnovers than they are going to get with layups. That's the way we play. I told them, `They've got to beat us at what we do best.' "

In a Baltimore County basketball universe in which the most recognizable names are Randallstown, Milford Mill and Woodlawn, New Town (22-4) admittedly flew under the radar.

Even on the New Town campus, the boys have to battle with the girls team for acclaim. The girls, who won the 1A state title last year but had to forfeit the crown for using ineligible players, earned their way to the state semifinals the night before the boys, making New Town the only area school to send boys and girls teams out for a championship.

And for their troubles, the Titans get the, um, pleasure of facing No. 11 Dunbar, which heads to Comcast Center looking for its fourth straight state championship and 11th overall, but if they get the title, at least it'll know what to do afterward.

"I expect us to get the championship," Clarke said. "We'll have a couple of hard practices, then go down to Maryland and get the win."

Finally, a note of contrition and apology: In Sunday's column, I incorrectly listed the college at which local basketball observer Paul Baker coached. Baker coached at Wheeling Jesuit in the early 1970s.

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