Note: This story was corrected. DuVal coach Lafayette Dublin's name was spelled incorrectly.
Having just made a 3-pointer to pull within one point of second-seeded DuVal High School, Northwestern's boys basketball team was 2 minutes, 28 seconds away from a quarterfinal round upset and a trip to the Class 4A South Region semifinals.
Instead, the Tigers — sluggish for a majority of the night despite playing in front of an energetic home crowd — received a crucial 3-pointer from Mallin Sellers with 2:03 remaining in the fourth quarter and guard Mike Cunningham made five of his six free throw attempts down the stretch to help their team hang on for a hard-fought 57-47 victory Thursday night in Lanham. DuVal will play host to No. 3 Henry A. Wise in the regional semifinals on Tuesday.
“He was big-time,” Tigers coach Lafayette Dublin said of Sellers. “I have that trust in him to do that kind of stuff. He face-guarded their guard and he is one of our best shooters. I'm proud of him.”
The 3-pointer was Sellers' only basket of the night, while Cunningham finished with a game-high 14 points, tied with the output of teammate Paris Jones.
“We practice free throws every day. I knew I could step to the line and knock it down for my team,” Cunningham said.
The game was tight from the opening tip as Northwestern slowed the tempo and prevented DuVal from executing quickly in transition. Throughout the second half, neither team led by more than five until the final two minutes. Five-foot-2 sophomore guard Mike White led the Wildcats with 12 points while center Amir Boney contributed 11.
Northwestern's interior defense was stout, forcing DuVal to take its chances from beyond the arc. Of course, the Tigers welcome the opportunity to shoot from long range given the makeup of the roster, and converted six of their 17 3-point shot attempts Thursday night, none bigger than Sellers' shot.
“Our starters got tired,” said Wildcats coach Terrance Burke, Sr. “I was trying to figure out who to use to replace them. I just needed one more person. We pretty much ran out of energy.”
DuVal had the opposite problem.
“They disrupted us,” Dublin said, later attributing his team's lackluster start to a two-week layoff between games. “They played very hard and we didn't play very hard at all. I don't think we matched their level of intensity. I think they wanted it more in the first half than we did.”
The Tigers' normally fast-paced offensive attack was slowed to a crawl multiple times by either a man-to-man or 3-2 zone. On the night, DuVal shot 38.2 percent from the floor, converting on 18-of-47 attempts while knocking down 15-of-25 free throws. Converting from the line is where Northwestern fell flat, as the Wildcats made just four of their 17 free-throw attempts, including just three of their nine attempts in the fourth quarter.
“I knew it'd be a hard-fought game because it was the playoffs,” Cunningham said. “Everyone brings their best game. ... We've got to keep this thing going so we can get to Comcast [Center].”
DuVal 57, Northwestern 47
Northwestern 12 15 8 12 — 47
DuVal 17 12 9 19 — 57
Northwestern (10-12): Mike White 12, Amir Boney 11, Khalil Nance 7, John Johnson 6, David Tabron 4, Olin Vgo 4, David Belle 3.
DuVal (18-4): Michael Cunningham 14, Paris Jones 14, Charles Ekeanyanwu 10, Edward Polite 9, Chad Dickerson 3, Mallin Sellers 3, Justin Alexander 2, Tyree Holmes 2.