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March 1, 2009

Boys' basketball can't defuse Rockets

by Greg Kohn, Online Sports Editor
RICHARD MONTGOMERY HIGH SCHOOL, Feb. 27 –

Blair's varsity boys' basketball team was unable to overcome an 11-point first-half hole in the opening round of the playoffs Friday night, succumbing to a sharpshooting Richard Montgomery squad, 62-56. The Rockets' perimeter game was exemplified in ending each of the first three quarters with buzzer beaters combining for seven points, more than the final difference.

After three quarters of mediocre basketball, a tense Blair team faced a daunting 47-33 deficit with eight minutes to play. Yet with the pressure peaking, the Blazers finally found their groove. "When you're down big, the things you do don't have such an immediate impact," head coach Mark DeStefano explained. "That relief allowed us to finally start shooting the ball, instead of aiming it."

And shoot they did. Senior captains Wayne Henderson and Mike McClain headed an 11-2 Blazer run - characteristic of the team's three consecutive comeback wins to open the season - capped by McClain's conversion of an and-one to bring Blair within five, 49-44.

Calmly, however, the Rockets responded with two layups to extend the lead to nine points with just under four minutes remaining. Blair played with urgency and poise in the waning minutes, but ultimately was unable to gain ground save for a three-pointer buzzer beater. "We ran out of time," McClain said. The final was 62-56.

The late deficit was founded in a slow start. Starting games with intensity has been a problem all year for Blair, and considering the Blazers actually outscored the Rockets after the first quarter, the loss should be pinned on it. "We came out flat, both offensively and defensively," head coach Mark DeStefano said. "We let them get an early lead, and when you're on the road in the playoffs, you just can't do that."

It started well –McClain hit two free throws for the first points of the game. This, however, would prove to be Blair's only lead of the game. Richard Montgomery seized the advantage on the very next play, nailing a three and setting an offensive tone for the rest of the quarter.

While Blair's shots rimmed out, the Rockets couldn't seem to miss. After the Blazers' initial two points, Richard Montgomery went on a 12-3 run for an early seven-point lead. McClain, who finished with a season-high 20 points, had six in the opening quarter, but every hard-earned Blair-bucket was negated by Richard Montgomery's deadly perimeter shooting.

Ahead 16-9 heading into the second quarter, the Rockets continued to build on their lead while Blair struggled to finish on offense. Junior Dennis Mesidor worked with McClain in trying to spark the stagnant Blazer offense.

Down 23-9, Mesidor hit a jumper then finished a baseline dish from McClain to bring Blair back within 10 points. A few plays later Mesidor returned the favor, finding McClain for the layup. With under a minute in the half, McClain sank two free throws to cut the deficit to single digits, but a Rocket buzzer beater left the halftime-hole at 31-20.

Even after the locker room break, the Blazers still had difficulty getting their shots to fall. Blair opened the third quarter 0 for 3 from the floor, finally finding the bottom of the net on put-backs from Mesidor and senior captain Leon Sampson, who finished with eight rebounds. Unfortunately, the Rockets continued to hit their shots, peaking at a 44-30 lead with under two minutes in the quarter. Henderson hit what appeared to be a big-time three-pointer, but a Richard Montgomery guard canceled the bucket with a trey of his own as time expired.

Despite outscoring the Rockets 23-15 in the final eight minutes, Blair was unable to make up the deficit compiled through the first three quarters and fell, 62-56.

For many on the team, Friday night will be the last time they don the Blair jersey. "It was an emotional game," Sampson said. "The playoffs always bring out the best of teams, but tonight we just fell short." The center intends to play college ball in the years to come, and is currently being scouted by three schools, the top prospect of which is Boston University.

McClain, who played his first season as a Blazer last year after two years at DeMatha, was not any less disappointed in the loss. "None of us wanted this," he said. "It was heartbreaking." McClain also intends to play college basketball.

"This team executed better than years past," DeStefano finished, as he packed up his gear for the last time this season. "But they often thought too hard that they forgot that."

Editor's note: Mark DeStefano is an adviser for Silver Chips Online









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