When James Monroe boys basketball coach Carlos Evans decided to keep Jeremiah McCormick on the roster last season, he believed the teenager needed a morale boost while going through a personal matter.
Evans soon discovered McCormick had a devastating 3-point stroke and a relentless work ethic.
McCormick didn’t play much as a junior, but he’s worked his way into the rotation this season. He hit a clutch 3-pointer for the Yellow Jackets to give them a two-point lead with less than three minutes remaining in host James Monroe’s Battlefield District semifinal against Eastern View Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Yellow Jackets didn’t look back as they held on for a 50–42 victory, setting up a district title game showdown against Caroline on Thursday at approximately 7:15 p.m. on the Yellow Jackets’ home floor. Eastern View and Caroline will play for the district’s junior varsity title at 5:30 p.m.
The Cavaliers’ varsity knocked off Courtland 61-54 in the other semifinal to set up a third meeting with the Yellow Jackets.
James Monroe pulled out a thrilling 70–68 win at Caroline in January, while the Cavaliers earned a 61–50 victory on the Yellow Jackets’ home court last Friday.
“We know each other. We know what they do and they know what we do,” Evans said. “It’s no secret. The kids are going to come out and play hard.”
Evans said the Yellow Jackets (13–10) can thank the player they call “J Bug” for an opportunity at their first district tournament title since 2012. McCormick’s 3 gave the Yellow Jackets a 44–42 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“He energizes us,” Evans said. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen and sometimes he can be a liability on defense, but he’s always ready. And the kids feed off him in practice. We expect when he goes in that he’s got the green light. Tonight he let it go.”
Eastern View (10–12) didn’t score again after McCormick’s shot. The Cyclones tallied just four points in the fourth quarter. They entered the final frame with a 38–36 lead after connecting on seven 3-pointers in the first three periods.
“I basically told the kids, ‘It’s do or die’ and they bought in,” Evans said. “We know we’re going to defend night in and night out. I feel like the kids pinned their ears back and went after it.”
Sophomore point guard Ricky Goode-Wright and senior forward Girardi Cubillan did the heavy lifting on offense for JM, combining for 35 points. Goode-Wright poured in 20, including a 6 for 6 effort from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“Practice makes perfect,” Goode-Wright said. “I’ve got to go 10 for 10 from the line at practice before I can leave the gym. It showed out there tonight.”
Junior forward Blake Leake paced the Cyclones with 14 points. Junior guard Alex Spangler added 11. Eastern View will now look forward to the Region 4B playoffs.
Courtland is left to shift its attention to the region, as well. The Cougars (14–9) were unable to contain Caroline’s high-scoring backcourt in the second half as the Cavaliers (16–5) will now look to repeat as district tournament champions.
Senior guard Mykai Smith and junior guard Kaylen Taylor combined for 43 points, with Smith contributing a game-high 23 and Taylor recording a triple-double.
In addition to Taylor’s 20 points, he collected 10 rebounds, dished out 11 assists and collected eight backbreaking steals.
Caroline head coach Antoine Johnson said while Smith has gained attention after a 43-point performance Monday night at Eastern View, Taylor is the “glue” to the team.
“He just controls the game,” Johnson said. “He didn’t shoot it particularly well [Monday night] but he came back out and had a great all-around game. He was causing havoc with his defense and anticipation. And he hits the glass like a big man.”
Courtland was paced by 16 points from Camryn McDonald. Senior guard Jayden Allende scored 14 and junior forward Zane Fox added 12.
The Cavaliers and Cougars will play again next Wednesday in the region quarterfinals, if Courtland wins its opening round contest on Monday. Caroline has a first-round bye.
If there is a fourth meeting between the teams, the Cougars will try to control the ball better in the backcourt with Taylor on the prowl defensively. He put the game away with several fourth-quarter thefts.
“Once they put the ball down, I just attack it,” Taylor said. “That’s my mindset. I read their footsteps. That first dribble, I go get it.”
Caroline also got eight points apiece from Jaylen Taylor and Tre Terrell. Johnson said if the 6-foot-5 Terrell, a sophomore who also had eight rebounds, continues with that type of production, Caroline can be a formidable region opponent.
“That’s what we’ve been missing,” Johnson said. “We put a lot of pressure on our guards to carry us and any added help that we can get is a cherry on top. Tre is young, but he’s coming along, maturing and getting better. We’re going to need that the rest of the season.”
Eastern View (10–12): Zion Clark 5, Blake Leake 14, Alex Spangler 11, Meme Melvin 0, Donovan Noakes 3, Chance Graves 0, Sebastian Pullin 3, Quennell Tyree 6, Dylan Galenski 0, Keyshawn Butler 0. Totals 16 3–6 42.
James Monroe (13–10): Girardi Cubillan 15, Ricky Goode-Wright 20, Tyler Whitman 2, Kaison Barnett 0, Luol Chol 8, Tayon Doss 0, Parker Smocer-Hildebrand 0, Travis Hudson 2, Jeremiah McCormick 3. Totals 17 12–12 50.
3-pointers: EV 7 (Leake 4, Clark, Pullin, Spangler). JM 4 (Goode-Wright 2, Cubillan, McCormick).
Courtland (14–9): Xander Alston 0, Shyheem Lewis 8, Jayden Allende 14, Keyonte Dean 2, Amir Nuri 2, Zane Fox 12, Corey John 0, Camryn McDonald 16. Totals 22 8–14 54.
Caroline (16–5): Mykai Smith 23, Jaylen Taylor 8, Kaylen Taylor 20, Tre Terrell 8, Koby Metz 0, Jay Childs 2, Xavier Campbell 0, Camron Haskins 0. Totals 23 12–22 61.
3-pointers: Courtland 2 (Allende, McDonald). Caroline 3 (Smith 3).