LARGO – Harford Community College guard Carlos Done watched his three-point attempt sink straight inside the cylinder as it caressed the twine, causing the traveling fans in the Novak Field House to roar in celebration.
The shot extended Harford’s lead to eight points with 3:12 remaining, essentially solidifying a victory in the quarterfinals of the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference (MD JUCO) Men's Basketball Tournament on Feb. 16.
Meanwhile, Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) Head Coach Brian Johnson dropped his head down into his hands. The hopes of a miraculous comeback by his men’s basketball team, who battled through a 17-point deficient at one point, ended with one shot.
Even with four players scoring in double-figures, including a career performance by freshman Shiloh Beale, it was not enough as No. 8 PGCC was eliminated after losing against the top-seeded Fighting Owls 90-78.
Eight days prior, on Feb. 7, PGCC (15-12) pushed the Fighting Owls to their limit in their regular season finale, sending them to overtime before losing 98-93. Johnson said he expected his team to come out with more energy after their previous gutsy performance with the bonus of playing the tournament game at home.
“I think the jitters got to us,” Johnson said. “Playing at home in front of a great crowd and playing the No. 1 seed, who is a tough opponent. There is a reason why they only lost one game in the conference.”
PGCC, who won the championship last year, was not able to establish a rhythm early. They turned the ball over three times in the opening stages fo the match while allowing Harford (19-7) to develop a 10-2 lead. Charles H. Flowers High School alumnus Mykal Johnson, one of the team’s leaders, was promptly removed after getting into foul trouble just seven minutes in the first half.
Turnovers continued to plague PGCC as they gave possession away 13 times in first half. Harford freshman guard Khalil Williams-Diggins swatted away a midcourt pass and quickly ran down for the layup. After being fouled in the process, the guard finished the three-point play and gave Harford their largest lead (17) in the game.
“We went down big early,” Johnson said. “It is tough to get back in a game like that. But, our guys kept fighting and kept punching the bag, and we got it close…but we just couldn’t get it over the hump.”
The Owls battled back before halftime, going on a 20-4 run, thanks to converted free throws and scoring off turnovers. A steal turned into an alley-oop opportunity to sophomore James Hagins, reducing the deficit to five. Meanwhile, PGCC excelled at the free throw line, going 13 of 16 as Harford’s advantage dropped as low as a point with less than two minutes before halftime.
That would be the closest PGCC would get as Harford started the second half imposing their will. The trio of Williams-Diggins, Martin Kelly Jr., and Isaiah Boggs finished the game scoring in double-figures and were vital in the Fighting Owls going on a 12-3 run and created a 13-point advantage.
The performances of role players off the bench added to the PGCC attack, providing 55 percent of the team’s offense as they scored 43 points. Beale propelled PGCC back in the game, scoring 10 of his career-high 21 points in the second half.
Gus Stone scored six straight points as well. PGCC was gaining momentum as they reduced the deficit to four with 7:21 left.
“Their performance was big,” guard Kennith Ford said. “They gave the team a spark, especially when the starters got tired. It gave everyone a spark, so it was real big.”
Harford did not relent on its attack, hitting 42.3 percent of its field goals. As time ticked down to the final minute, Done launched himself up for a power dunk on a breakaway, finishing off any hope of a PGCC comeback. Done finished with nine points in the victory for the Fighting Owls.
“We played hard,” Ford said, who scored 14 points. “There were a couple of moments in the game where we were supposed to close out, and we cut (their lead) down to six, but we just couldn’t close it out.”
PGCC will get another chance to win a trophy when they compete in the National Junior College Athletic Conference Region XX Division III Tournament at Westmoreland County Community College in Pennsylvania on Feb. 23-25 to close the 2017-18 season.
“I think this is something we are going to look upon and build off of,” Coach Johnson said. “It hurts that we will not be able to repeat as Maryland JUCO Conference Champions, but I think that there is a brighter day ahead next week for this program.”