A popular hashtag used by the Eleanor Roosevelt High School boys basketball team's Twitter account, @ERoosRaiders, has been #journeyback2comcast since tryouts began on Nov. 15.
It means, of course, a trip to the state tournament, which is annually held at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center.
On Friday night, playing host to Henry A. Wise in the 4A South Region final, Eleanor Roosevelt fulfilled that goal, escaping with a 56-55 victory and earning a fourth straight trip to Comcast.
“I don't think it's ever been done, four in a row,” Roosevelt coach Brendan O'Connell said. “I definitely think this was the hardest of the four, just being that No. 1 seed and being county champs, I think the kids felt a lot of pressure but they didn't show it.”
The clash featured, most notably, two of the top teams in the area, combining for a 43-6 record coming in, but there were three more matchups that were equally enticing. Two of the top point guards in the public ranks squared off in Roosevelt's Emmanuel Matey and Wise's Justice Sneed; unquestionably the top pair of 3-point threats in Trevor Evans and Markell Young; and two of the most versatile big men in Malachi Alexander and Micah Till.
With their counterparts in effect, “X-ing each other out,” as Wise coach Rob Garner put it, “somebody else would have to step up,” he said.
That person was Tiwian Kendley.
Late in the third quarter the 6-foot-5 senior was flattened by Wise's Devin Moore, who was called for an illegal screen. It took Kendley a good two to three minutes to get up and be helped off the court, but Roosevelt coach Brendan O'Connell didn't have much doubt his swingman would be making a return.
“As soon as he went down I knew he'd be back up,” O'Connell said. “I mean, he was in a ton of pain but he's as tough as they come.”
And when Kendley made his return, he made it a loud one. First there was the defensive rebound where he hung on through throngs of Puma hands and eventually went to the line to shoot a 1-and-1 (he made the front end, missed the second). Then there was the monster baseline dunk over Till to regain the lead.
“No better way to get back than that,” said Kendley, who spoke with a coach from Baltimore City Community College after the game. “That was huge momentum.”
Sneed hit a 3-pointer on the other end but Kendley matched him with a three of his own coming back. Two possessions later, the Roosevelt defense forced a turnover and Kendley was first out on the break. He took in a long pass over half court, checked around for any defenders and, seeing none, rose up for a two-handed tomahawk that sent the Roosevelt crowd into delirium.
“It really elevates us and gets us back into our zone,” Matey said. “When he dunks it, we get back on D, everybody's hyped up to get back on D. When we get big stops like that, he really energizes us. When he dunks like that, they're game-changing plays.”
The Raiders would never trail again after Kendley's third and final dunk of the day — he had also finished an alley-oop from Evans earlier in the third quarter — hanging on despite some uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting, going just 5-for-15 in the fourth quarter.
“Those are the kind of games we like to play,” O'Connell said. “Just defensive games where it's physical and it's a battle and I think all the kids embrace that.”
The previously mentioned matchups still lived up to the billing, even if it was Kendley who effectively iced the game. Young, Till and Sneed would combine for 46 of Wise's 55 points while Alexander led all scorers with 18, Matey dished out seven assists, and Evans, whom O'Connell has previously labeled as his best perimeter defender, didn't allow Young to get a shot off in the entire fourth quarter.
“To be going to Comcast for four straight years in a row, there's no other feeling like it,” said Alexander, a Holy Cross recruit. “To get to this point, it's great. We can celebrate tonight and then go onto the next game. It's a great feeling to get back to Comcast but that wasn't our goal. Our goal is to win at Comcast.”
It looks like @ERoosRaiders is going to need a new hashtag.
Roosevelt 56, Wise 55
Roosevelt 15 15 12 14—56
Wise 12 18 14 11—55
Roosevelt (25-1; 18-1): Malachi Alexander 18; Tiwian Kendley 12; Jesse Ason 9; Lerenzo Foote 8; Emmanuel Matey 5; Trevor Evans 4.
Wise (19-6; 14-5): Micah Till 16; Justice Sneed 15; Markell Young 15; Douglas Nedab 3; Lavonte Sanders 2; Devin Moore 2; Ja'Quille Magazine 2.