By: Dr. Richard Micap, President, Garrett College
McHENRY – For quite a while it was a fair question as to whether the Lakers would break the 40-point barrier against visiting Chesapeake College Saturday afternoon. So how in the name of James Naismith did they end up with the ball and chance to reach the century mark in what became a 97-62 men's basketball victory over the Skipjacks?
It's amazing what a confidence-inspiring, 15-0 scoring blitz can accomplish.
Both teams started ice-cold, with Chesapeake nosing in front, 13-11, on Anthony Tate's layup with 7:39 left in the half. Chesapeake's pressure defense gave the Lakers trouble early, particularly on the wings where the Skipjacks were constantly double-teaming the ball.
Seemingly out of nowhere, however, the Lakers responded with their 15-0 spree behind a red-hot Ariel Watson. The sophomore guard started the run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, putting Garrett ahead to stay, and scored the final seven points of the surge, helping the Lakers finished the first half with a 43-24 cushion.
"We were able to make the right reads and finish plays," Watson, who scored 22 of his game-high 34 points in the first half, said of the game-turning run. "When they're pressing like that, you have to make them pay for it."
"He's a volume scorer," Garrett head coach Dennis Gibson said of Watson. "When he gets in that rhythm where he feels like he's got it going, he's really dangerous. He's done that all year, but especially the second semester where we've really needed his scoring [due to injuries and ineligible players] to be competitive."
Gibson also cited the role played by reserve guard Nelson Richardson, which had nothing to do with his 8 points and everything to do with his attitude.
"Nelson really sparked us with his energy," observed Gibson, whose Laker (13-9 overall, 5-8 Maryland JuCo) had lost three straight and six-of-eight. "He came in and dove for that loose ball and guys got up and were cheering. That changed the game."
Chesapeake twice pulled within 17 points early in the second half, the second time on a Terehk Agnew layup that made it 51-34, but the Lakers answered with a 7-0 run. Jermaine Samuel (19 points) nailed a 3-pointer and Ray Hinton (14 points, 7 assists) converted a pair of layups as Garrett stretched its lead to 58-34.
Garrett took a 64-38 lead on a jumper by Richardson before Tate single-handedly tried to make a game of it. Tate, who finished with a team-high 29 points for the Skipjacks, scored 10 straight Chesapeake points in one stretch, but couldn't get the Skipjacks closer than 20.
Nate Avery scored 13 points for Chesapeake to join Tate in double digits.
Both teams struggled offensively at the start. The game was nearly four minutes old before Chesapeake scored, and the Skipjacks didn't reach double figures until Jordan Alston's hoop with exactly eight minutes left in the first half.
Since Garrett was nearly as cold, Alston's basket created an 11-11 tie and set the stage for Tate's go-ahead layup. The entire complexion of the game changed, however, with Garrett's Watson-infused, 15-0 run.
"We got on that 15-0 run early and were able to maintain the lead after that," said Watson, who scored all 34 of his points in the final 31 minutes.
At the end, the Lakers had the ball with plenty of time on the clock and 97 points on the scoreboard, but Gibson yelled out, "No shot" and the Lakers ran out the clock.
Gibson praised the play of the drastically improved Skipjacks (7-17, 5-9). Chesapeake, coming off a one-win season last year, was in content for a state tournament berth until losing to Garrett on Saturday in their conference finale.
"We were hoping to get into the tournament, but we were just so cold at the start," said Chesapeake head coach Allen Mitchell.
"That team's much better than last year," said Gibson. "They really hurt us on the boards. If we play that game at their place, where they're more comfortable shooting, I don't know if we win."
The Lakers conclude their home schedule today with a 3 p.m. conference game against visiting Frederick Community College. After a two-week break, Garrett finishes the regular season with road contests at Allegany College of Maryland (Feb. 25), Potomac State College (Feb. 28) and Northern Virginia Community College (March 5) before participating in the NJCAA Division II Region XX tournament.
Chesapeake is off until next month's NJCAA Division I Region XX tournament.