Lackey's patience is golden in upset of Mervo

On High Schools

March 10, 2006|By MILTON KENT

COLLEGE PARK — College Park-- --Normally, there are few things more nauseating than the twin pieces of post-game drivel uttered by coaches and players at this point in the basketball calendar: No one expected us to win and nobody respects us.

Lackey boys basketball coach Tony Mast wisely skipped the second cliche, but uttered the first, after the Chargers' 70-56 win over No. 8 Mervo yesterday in the Class 3A semifinals. And, for once, saying such a thing made perfect sense.

"I don't think there's a lot of people in this state that thought we would be playing on Saturday, March 11, for a state championship," Mast said.

How right he is. How would anyone expect a team from Southern Maryland, a region that has produced just one state champion in the past 34 years and one other finalist in that time, to knock off a team from mighty Baltimore City, which has 19 state championships in the 13 years since city schools joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association?

And the deck seemed especially stacked for Mervo, which six days ago pulled off possibly the upset of the season in area basketball, knocking off then-No. 2 Walbrook, 54-48, on the road in the 3A North regional final.

Their four guards surely would control the tempo against Lackey (25-1) and get the party started toward the school's first basketball state title. Yesterday would be a tune-up, then the Mustangs (21-5) would roll over Seneca Valley or Long Reach tomorrow, right?

Perhaps the Mervo faithful took it as a fait accompli that the Mustangs, having won their way out of the city, would just roll to a state championship. How else to explain fewer than 100 hardy souls venturing to Comcast Center for yesterday's 3 p.m. start, while what appeared to be the entire Lackey school made the more-than-one-hour trip up from Southern Maryland to see its school's first semifinal appearance in 28 years?

Instead, the Chargers, ranked No. 6 in The Washington Post's poll, flipped the very script Mervo used last week against Walbrook by slowing things down. Lackey didn't take 60 or 90 seconds off the clock on each possession yesterday, as the Mustangs did against Walbrook, but it was decidedly patient.

"I didn't think going into this ballgame that they would try to play that same kind of ballgame against us," said Mast, 27, who wasn't even born when Lackey last reached the state semifinals. "I thought from what I saw from their other games besides Walbrook that they were an up-tempo team that wanted to press, wanted to run, wanted to get an up-and-down game.

"We didn't want to do that, and not because we're not used to that, but the level of competition that we do that against in our league is a little bit different than they do in their league."

It's a fair bet that schools like Thomas Stone, Leonardtown and Great Mills, whom Lackey meets in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, don't play the same way that Walbrook, Southwestern and Dunbar do. But the beauty of March, in high schools and colleges, is that reputation and geography don't win championships. Players making plays do, and the Mustangs, who shot 33 percent, didn't make plays, especially on the offensive end.

Rare is the team that can survive a 10-point quarter at this time of the year, especially against good opposition, unless, of course, you can control tempo. Once the Mustangs fell behind after their poor-shooting third period, in which star Antoine Wallace went scoreless after getting 14 in the first half, they were forced to speed up their offense.

"We were just trying to slow down," said Wallace, who scored 20 points. "We weren't being more aggressive, the way we were supposed to have been. All we had to do was be more patient, and we weren't patient. We were forcing shots. So, as we tried to slow it down, we were [committing turnovers]. We weren't playing our basketball. We were playing their basketball. That's what turned the game [around]."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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