To a casual onlooker attending Thursday night's boys basketball game between Tuscarora and Northwood high schools, there would have been no way of telling which one entered 5-0 and which was 0-6.
Tuscarora, of course, the defending 3A West Region champion, was the undefeated squad and Northwood the winless one. But the face of the Titans' program, Lamell Washington, was limited to morale booster as he sat on the bench in khaki cargo pants and a hoodie, with athletic tape supporting a wrist he sprained while shoveling snow.
But even with Washington, a 6-foot-6 senior forward averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds per game, on the bench, the Titans prevailed, squeaking past Northwood for a 55-53 victory at home during the Frederick County-Montgomery County Challenge.
“Well, when you lose 21 [points], 17 [rebounds], four [blocks], you know, I did [expect this],” Tuscarora coach Pat Cook said. “It's tough to learn new roles and when you're learning new roles, sometimes it's hard. I had production from the bench, guys contributing from the bench, but we still made some really careless mistakes…we put them back in the game with silly mistakes.”
At first, it appeared to be only a matter of time before the pesky Gladiators exhausted themselves. Montrose Christian transfer Carney Bernard was scorching throughout the first half, leading the Titans with 21 points on 9 of 10 shooting in the opening 16 minutes alone — he would conclude with a game-high 23. The Titans led by 10 at halftime.
“This morning I worked out and I was feeling kind of good,” said Bernard, who said Thursday might have been his breakout game of the season. “And I came in and it just translated right over.”
But Northwood, led by sophomore free-gunning guard Jauvenel Leveille and junior guard Justin Thomas, remained staunch with its scrappiness. The Gladiators earned second-chances where Washington would have been there to snag the rebound. They were on the floor for the loose balls and they kept finding ways to keep Bernard and Tuscarora from slipping away.
“When you play the Magruders and some of the teams we play,” Northwood coach Anthony Dickens said. “You're not going to be intimidated.”
Tuscarora's 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter was trimmed to three with 1 minute, 18 seconds left on a pair of free throws from Leveille. Thomas then cut it to one with 33 seconds remaining on a bold pull-up 3-pointer and then, following a pair of free throws from Kwa McDonald, Abass Bundu kept it to within one on a layup with 4.7 seconds left.
McDonald would knock down another free throw to extend the lead back to two, but it would be his defense following his own missed shot that ultimately sealed the game for the Titans. His second shot clanged off the rim and fell to the left where Northwood picked it up, but McDonald had chased down the rebounder, catching Northwood off-guard and the Gladiators dribbled it out of bounds, granting Tuscarora the ball and the victory.
Friday night, Tuscarora will see Quince Orchard, a team that beat the Titans by one this past summer in off-season play, and Northwood will get a shot at redemption with Frederick.
“Tomorrow night's going to be a test,” Cook said. “QO is going to keep coming and we're going to see what we're made of.”
Tuscarora 55, Northwood 53
Tuscarora (6-0) 18 16 11 10—55
Northwood (0-7) 16 8 10 19—53
Tuscarora—Carney Bernard 23; Kwa McDonald 8; Chris Abbernathy 7; Joe Findly 6; Marcus Anderson 6; Matt Kidd 3; Brison Hopper 2.
Northwood—Justin Thomas 17; Jauvenel Leveille 13; Sean Vanduring 6; Abass Bundu 6; Emmitt Reddock 6; Alex Ochoa 2; Darian Hicks 2.