The fall high school season officially came to a close this weekend with the football state finals. So, Charles H. Flowers High School took the liberty of hosting the DMVElite Holiday Tip-off Classic to kick the winter sports season into full gear with a two-day, 20-team event that featured six county teams in Saturday's opener.
Saturday's schedule for Prince George's was:
12:30 p.m: Suitland vs. National Collegiate
2:00 p.m: Bowie vs. Arundel
3:30 p.m: Flowers vs. Battlefield
6:30 p.m: Clinton Christian vs. Prominence Academy
8:00 p.m: DuVal vs. DeMatha
It would be a bit hasty to label Darryl Smith as Suitland's answer to losing Roddy Peters — the first time in four years coach George McClure has fielded a team sans the University of Maryland freshman point guard for a full season — but it's not a bad first guess.
In the first quarter of the 12:30 p.m. matchup between Suitland and National Collegiate, Smith rang up 10 points on a blend of 3-pointers, pull-up jumpers, layups and free throws and finished with a team-high 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting. Even without 6-foot-4 forward Gerard Gray, arguably the team's top returner who sat out to rest after Saturday night's state final football game loss to Northwest, the Rams took a convincing 81-59 win over National in which they never trailed.
“I knew what we had coming,” Smith said. “A lot of people didn't know what we had coming in and I just told people 'We don't have to say anything, we'll just play our game.'”
Suitland, in fact, may have an element this year that McClure had been devoid of throughout the Peters era: a true point guard. As the main ball handler in his four years, Peters often had to create for himself rather than being set up with screens and cuts off the ball. Now, with Donnell Graham operating as a full-time ball handler, Smith is free to work off the ball to set up scoring opportunities.
“That helps a lot,” Smith said. “He'll pass me the ball and I'll pass him the ball and it just works great.”
Ram top scorers: Darryl Smith 28, Donnell Graham 14, Nolen Dixon 14, Michael Turner 11.
Bowie and Charles H. Flowers, both considered contenders in the county 4A League race, will play each other Tuesday night, so which one is the more legitimate of the two will be decided then. But the Bulldogs made a rather convincing case on Saturday in a comfortable 71-39 win over Arundel despite an off day from Dejuan Smith (5-of-17, 12 points).
It took barely more than three minutes to build a 10-point lead and a little more than six to blow open an 18-2 cushion. Any fleeting hopes of an Arundel comeback were shut out in an 18-0 third quarter run that saw the Bulldogs push their lead to 28.
Point guard Jared Gray led the Bulldogs with 18 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 6-of-9 from the free throw line and 11 different players scored for Bowie.
“We're a young team,” coach Cedric Holbrook said. “It's a new style of basketball but we still have to fine-tune it.”
Bulldog top scorers: Jared Gray 18, Dejuan Smith 12, Christian Bryant 9, Everett Chambers 8.
During a scrimmage with DeMatha Catholic, Flowers center Clint Robinson, expected to be one of the top big men in the county this year, bumped knees with a Stag and sat out a few practices prior to Saturday's tournament. He began the 3:30 p.m. season-opener with Battlefield on the bench, and played relatively sparingly throughout, particularly in the first half.
What became of it was Edwards' squad proving it was more than just a few role players floating around the 6-foot-7 Robinson. Four players finished in double-figures for Flowers (1-0), with Patrick Johnson leading the way with 19 and Juwan Weldon (15), Devin Shuler (14) and Tyrik Campbell (10) following suit. Robinson finished with nine, seven of which came from the free throw line.
After the break, Flowers outscored Battlefield 43-30 and shot 14 percent better from the field (48) as compared to its first half rate of 34.
“The third quarter went really well, we made some adjustments defensively which helped us out a lot,” Edwards said. “I think we took half as many three point shots in the second half and we cut our turnovers in half. That usually helps. That's usually a recipe for success.”
Top Jaguar scorers: Patrick Johnson 19, Juwan Weldon 15, Devin Shuler 14, Tyrik Campbell 10, Clint Robinson 9.
The first sign that Clinton Christian is a completely remade program from the forgettable one of last year came before the ref even tossed the ball for the tipoff. Flowers was at full capacity for the penultimate game of the night, and the Eagles were playing Prominence of North Carolina.
The second sign came when Byron Hawkins, John Davis, Leroy Butts and crew jumped out to a 12-2 lead, extended it to 30-10 midway through the second quarter, and the game soon became a “which team can dunk harder or throw the best alley-oop” contest (the crowd won that one).
The Eagles would let up a bit towards the end of the game, allowing Prominence to get within single digits, but Clinton closed it out, 69-56, setting up what will likely be another sell-out game with Capitol Christian on Dec. 21.