by: Dr. Richard Midcap
McHENRY, MD – Region tournaments can be wide-open affairs. Just ask the Garrett College men's basketball team.
Last season's Lakers – seeking a third consecutive national tournament berth – were upset by sixth-seeded Frederick Community College, 91-71, in the finals of the NJCAA Division II Region XX-B tournament. So don't expect Dennis Gibson's squad – the top-seeded host for this year's Region XX tournament – to come into this weekend's national qualifier overconfident.
"It doesn't matter whether you're the number one seed or not. The season comes down to one game at a time," said Gibson, the long-time Laker coach who was inducted into the NJCAA Basketball Hall of Fame last year. "This team has been a class act all season and I really want them to be successful. The hard part is the teams are very good in our region and it's going to be tough."
Even so, the Lakers (23-5 overall, 8-1 Region XX) come in as the team to beat in this weekend's regional tournament, which features four Friday quarterfinals. Eighth-seeded Northern Virginia Community College (10-17, 2-6) advanced to a 5 p.m. quarterfinal Friday against the Lakers with a 96-65 win over ninth-seeded Community College of Beaver County in Tuesday night's play-in game.
Third-seeded CCBC-Dundalk (13-14, 6-3) plays sixth-seeded College of Southern Maryland (11-16, 5-4) in Friday's 1 p.m. quarterfinal. Second-seeded CCBC-Catonsville (20-7, 7-2) takes on seventh-seeded Frederick Community College (11-14, 4-4) at 3 p.m. while fourth-seeded Potomac State College of West Virginia University (17-7, 5-4) tangles with fifth-seeded Cecil College (14-12, 5-4) in Friday's 7 p.m. finale.
The Dundalk-CSM and Catonsville-Frederick winners square off in Saturday's 2 p.m. semifinal while the Garrett-NoVa and PSC-Cecil victors meet in the 4 p.m. semifinal, with those winners meeting in Sunday's 1 p.m. title game.
Garrett's men have relied more on balance than brilliance on offense this season. The team is third in the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference in scoring, averaging 83.5 points per game, without a single scorer among the top 34 individual scorers. That's possible because four Garrett players are averaging double digits – forwards Malik Tunc (11.7 points per game) and Jafar Musa (11.6), and guards Ariel Watson (11.5) and Miguel Rodriguez (10.6).
"We have never been a team that's depended on one player," said Gibson. "It's nice to have that teamwork."
Musa is second in the state in field-goal percentage (61.9 percent), Tunc is seventh in rebounding at 8.8 per contest, and both Shane Chikerema (6th at 39.8 percent) and Rodriguez (10th at 37.1 percent) are in the top 10 in 3-point field-goal shooting.
The Lakers are also third in the state in average points allowed, yielding just 64.8 points per contest.
Garrett's only region loss was an 82-79 overtime setback against Cecil. The Lakers sweated out a 77-73 win over second-seeded Catonsville, but notched double-digit victories over every other region tournament rival.
While the Laker men are the top regional seed, Garrett's women are seeded second in the NJCAA Division II Region XX tournament that will take place at Howard Community College. Garrett (21-4, 9-1) takes on third-seeded Cecil College (19-7, 8-2) in Saturday's 4 p.m. semifinal after top-seeded Chesapeake College (16-8, 10-0) meets fourth-seeded CCBC-Catonsville (9-14, 4-6) in the 2 p.m. semifinal.
The final is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Garrett's women feature the state's top scorer in Chaunte McDowell, who is averaging 26.9 points per contest and leading the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage (44.4 percent). Teammate LeAsia Pennant leads the state with 4.2 blocks per game and Laker Hannah Henderson is second in the conference with 13.4 boards per contest.
Garrett's women are second in both scoring offense (89.1 points per game) and defense (42.7 points allowed per contest), with the Lakers trailing only state champ Harford Community College in each category.
While Garrett rolled to an 81-50 home-court win in the regular season against Cecil College, Garrett head coach Roy Boggess doesn't expect a repeat of that runaway in Saturday's semifinal.
"We played one of our best games of the season against Cecil," said Boggess. "Our team knows this is going to be a much tougher game this time around."
Chesapeake, seeking its fifth region crown in six years, has two tight wins over Garrett to its credit this season. However, both of those wins were at Chesapeake, and Boggess hopes to get a shot at the Skipjacks on a neutral court in Sunday's title game.
Garrett's biggest task if the Lakers meet Chesapeake in Sunday's title game will be slowing down Skipjack center Shahra Madison, who is averaging 16.7 points and a conference-best 15.8 rebounds per game. She did even better in the two games against Garrett, averaging 24.5 points and 19.5 rebounds per contest.