Eric Davis had a sense of calm about the state of his Courtland boys basketball team entering halftime Thursday night at Caroline.
The Cougars trailed by 10 points, but after a lethargic 16 minutes in which they struggled to find the basket, the head coach felt good about the position they were in.
Courtland’s deficit grew to 16 points early in the third quarter, but the Cougars didn’t panic. They began attacking the rim as they chipped away at the Cavaliers’ advantage en route to a 67–63 victory in the Region 4B quarterfinals.
Fifth-seeded Courtland (16–9) will host eighth-seeded Huguenot tonight at 7 p.m., while the No. 4 Cavaliers (17–6) see their season come to an end.
“I told them at half, ‘We’re down 10 and we can’t buy a shot,’” Davis said. “I said, ‘They left us in the ball game and now we’ve got a shot to win it.’ I felt like they should’ve been up 20. That’s how bad we shot in the first half. In the second half we started attacking the basket and good things happened.”
Instead of being up 20, the Cavaliers held a 29–19 advantage at intermission. Their lead grew to 39–23 in the third quarter before the Cougars went on an 18–3 run to trim their deficit to 42–41. The Cavaliers settled for a 45–41 lead entering the final frame.
But Courtland kept coming. The Cavaliers led 54–48 when the Cougars scored eight quick points to take a 56–54 advantage.
The game was tied at 63 in the final minute when Caroline senior guard Mykai Smith went in for a fast-break layup but was blocked. Courtland’s Keyonte Dean was fouled on the other end and made two free throws for a 65–63 lead with 31 seconds to go.
Smith was fouled with 16 seconds left and missed the front end of a one-and-one. Courtland guard Xander Alston (11 points) converted two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“At halftime we went in the locker room and we really debated on what we want to be and at the end of the discussion we said we want to be state champs,” said Courtland senior Shyheem Lewis, who scored 14 points. “So we had to do everything we could to [keep that goal alive].”
Courtland was paced by 19 points from senior forward Camryn McDonald. McDonald tallied 16 of those points in the second half.
Smith led the Cavaliers with a game-high 20 points. Junior guard Kaylen Taylor added 15, while Jaylen Taylor scored 10.
Davis said in practice earlier this week, he implemented a defense in which the Cougars would cover Smith and Kaylen Taylor with their best one-on-one defenders and the other three Courtland players would help them if the dynamic guards got into the paint.
Smith and Kaylen Taylor entered the contest averaging more than 47 points per game.
“We wanted to focus on those two and make the other three beat us,” Alston said.
It was a familiar outcome for Caroline head coach Antoine Johnson, whose team went 1–3 against Courtland this season with the lone win in last week’s district tournament semifinals.
Johnson’s Cavaliers repeated as Battlefield District tournament champions this year after earning at least a share of the regular-season crown. However, they were once again eliminated in the region quarterfinals by a district foe.
Last season, Eastern View knocked off the Cavaliers 66–63 in the region quarterfinals.
“It’s frustrating, but hats off to Courtland,” Johnson said. “We got out to a big lead in the third quarter, but they fought back and we didn’t really execute or play defense the way we needed to down the stretch.”
Courtland doesn’t have much time to enjoy the victory with defending region champion Huguenot looming. The Falcons have a 12–12 record, but have three victories over the top two seeds in the region (Monacan and Louisa).
“This is a big momentum boost for us,” McDonald said. “That’s what we’re really happy about … We wanted to come out here, play hard and win.”
Courtland (16-9): Shyheem Lewis 14, Keyonte Dean 4, Amr Nuri 6, Zane Fox 6, Camryn McDonald 19, Jayden Allende 7, Xander Alston 11, Corey John 0. Totals 24 14-18 67.
Caroline (17-6): Mykai Smith 20, Jaylen Taylor 10, Kaylen Taylor 15, Tre Terrell 2, Koby Metz 7, Jay Childs 5, Xavier Campbell 4. Totals 22 12-19 63.
3-pointers: Courtland 5 (McDonald 2, Fox, Alston, Allende). Caroline 7 (Smith 4, Metz, Childs, K. Taylor).