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TJ advances into state finals

March 08, 2001

TJ advances into state finals



By DAN SPEARS

dans@herald-mail.com

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


TJ over CrosslandCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - All season long, the Thomas Johnson boys basketball team kept telling people it was more than Jermaine Thomas, Joe Higbee and Rashad Wells.

At its most critical point of the season, the Patriots proved it.

continued

Tyler Wingerd sent Thursday's Class 3A state semifinal against Crossland into overtime, and clutch defense by Jermaine Williams and Wells gave TJ the needed lift for an 80-73 victory and its 10th berth in the state championship game.

"This feels great,'' said Williams, who held Crossland guard Jamar Robinson to zero field goals in the second half and ignited a fourth-quarter TJ rally with back-to-back buckets. "It makes me feel good when my team has confidence in me to do my job.''

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Despite Williams' best efforts, it still was nearly not enough for the Patriots (20-5, No. 4 Herald-Mail poll). After being down 12 at the beginning of the second half and taking a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, TJ trailed 63-61 with 38.7 seconds left, but was setting up for a final shot.

The triggerman - surprisingly - was not Thomas, whose field goal attempts had been limited all afternoon by a swarming Cavaliers defense. Instead, Wingerd was wide open from 3-point range. He shot and missed.

"We hoped Jermaine could get penetration,'' TJ coach Tom Dickman said. "And if he didn't we had Wingerd for 3. He had the look, we'll take that shot ... 10 times out of 10.''

Wingerd came up short, but took off after the rebound the second the ball left his hand. He grabbed the loose ball at the foul line, hesitated, then drove back to the basket and laid in a left-handed shot to tie the game.

"There were so many big plays in this game,'' Dickman said. "But yes, that was huge.''

It was TJ's first offensive rebound of the game.

"I knew it was short right away,'' Wingerd said. "I just worked around to it.''

The Cavaliers (20-7) had three last chances to win in regulation, but Robinson missed a runner, Justin Harrell threw up a brick on the rebound and Maurice Haskins' second rebound attempt was swatted away by Wells at the buzzer.

"We had the momentum at that point,'' Wells said. "We thought we could pull it out.''

The momentum wasn't just swinging, it was rolling down a hill. Crossland got the first point of overtime, but Thomas countered with a three-point play to trigger a 15-4 run anchored by an 11-for-13 effort from the free-throw line.

"We're a good free throw shooting team,'' said Dickman, whose team finished 33-for-44 from the line. "When we got the lead in overtime, it was a good feeling. We've been in that situation so many times ... winding down the clock, making our free throws.

"We're good at that, and were finally in a position to do something we were good at.''

The Patriots, however, are still best when being carried by their big three.

Thomas took only seven shots, but went 17-for-22 from the foul line for a game-high 28 points. Higbee finished with 24 and Wells had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

Williams finished with eight points, three steals and four assists, while Wingerd had six rebounds and two of the most important points of his life.

"I thought maybe it wasn't meant to be for us,'' Dickman said. "We'd make a good play and they'd get a putback, and you think maybe it's one of those days.

"But they say good teams find a way to win when they're not doing well. ... We must be living right.''

It's the fact that the Patriots are still living at all. In the final, the Patriots will face Randallstown, which defeated Westlake, 61-52.

Saturday's game will be at 3 p.m. at Cole Field House.

"It's still that great feeling,'' Wells said. "We'll be back Saturday.''

Thomas Johnson 80, Crossland 73



THOMAS JOHNSON (80)

J. Williams 8, J. Thomas 28, Higbee 24, Wingerd 3, Wells 17. Totals 22-38 33-44 80.

CROSSLAND (73)

D. Williams 2, Armstrong 5, Jackson 3, U. Thomas 5, Robinson 17, Harrell 12, R. Tate 3, Haskins 11, S. Proctor 7, Bridges 4. Totals 29-68 6-14 73.

T. Johnson1918121417-80

Crossland20269810-73

Three-point goals - Thomas Johnson 3-9 (J. Thomas, Higbee 2), Crossland 9-25 (D. Williams, Armstrong, U. Thomas, Robinson 2, Harrell 2, R. Tate, S. Proctor). Fouled out - Haskins, Bridges.

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