CUMBERLAND, Md. - The Hagerstown Community College basketball team played like its bus arrived at 1:30 p.m. for a 1:00 game.
In a sense, it did.
The Hawks showed up just in time to shake off a lethargic first half. Brandon DeShields hit consecutive 3-pointers to ignite a 19-4 run to close the first half Saturday and lead HCC to a 97-86 victory over Westchester (N.Y.) Community College in the NJCAA Northeast District III Tournament semifinals at Allegany College.
For the first 15 minutes, HCC (28-5) played like it left its game in the luggage rack.
"They were playing like they were still back on the bus," HCC coach Jim Brown said. "The thing we tried to do was get them to pick up the tempo. We were playing their style of game."
The Hawks showed no emotion or devotion to winning a chance to play Allegany for a third time, this time for the right to advance to the national junior college tournament today at 2. Allegany defeated Champlain (Vt.) in the other semifinal.
HCC trailed 30-22 with 5 minutes remaining in the first half, forcing Brown to call timeout. The Hawks immediately fell behind by 10 on a Cory Underwood layup before DeShields stemmed the tide by hitting two of his five 3-pointers for the game to park the bus.
Eric Branham, Mark Jennings and Bayi Handy were featured in short individual runs as the Hawks completed the rally by scoring the final seven points in the final 1:35 of the half to take a 41-36 lead at the intermission.
"(Brown) told us we had to get down and play defense to get our offense going," said DeShields, who hit four first-half 3-pointers, of the timeout. "I just took what (Westchester) gave me."
HCC scored the first 10 points of the second half, completing a 29-4 swing over a 7:15 span over the two halves that all but punched out the Westcos. Westchester never cut the lead into single digits.
"We started doing what we wanted to do," Brown said. "We got some good shot selection and things started to fall in and go our way."
Branham scored 14 of his game-high 28 in the second half to lead five HCC scorers in double figures. Gerbront Gaddy came off the bench to work the inside and match DeShields' 17-point outing. Damien Daniels topped Westchester with 23 points.
The win puts the Hawks in position for one last chance against Allegany with huge implications - to winner of today's 2 p.m. game heads to next week's national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. The Trojans have defeated the Hawks by 38 and 20 points this season as HCC has had problems handling Allegany's inside game.
"There's no good tuneup for tomorrow's game," Brown said. "We had better not leave the game plan on the bus tomorrow."