The James H. Blake High boys’ basketball team led throughout its Class 4A North Region Section II semifinal, but that lead was a tenuous one for a couple of minutes during the second quarter.
The visiting Howard Lions went on a 13-5 run to close a 10-point lead to 27-25 with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first half. Two baskets helped give the host Bengals some breathing room at the halftime horn. Over two dozen points in the third quarter were more than enough to lift Blake to a 68-57 victory. The win sets up Thursday’s scheduled sectional championship at Springbrook, and closed out the Lions season at 7-16.
The Bengals (15-8) took its 31-25 halftime advantage and outscored their opponent 25-7 in the pivotal period, turning the lead into a 56-32 at the end of the third. Junior guard Duane Davis and senior swingman Demonte Ojinnaka combined for 16 points during the run — Davis hitting 3-pointers and finishing drives and Ojinnaka converting a put back, a layup and a thunderous one-handed dunk off of a steal.
“We finally ran our offense swing the ball around and penetrated,” said Davis, who, along with Paul Tabe led the Bengals with 13 points each. “We played to their type of tempo. We were playing their type of game and they started to take advantage of it. We had to come out in the first half with more intensity. We did that, and we came out [with the win].
“We couldn’t sleep on them; anybody can come out and beat anybody in the playoffs. It’s one and done.”
The Lions’ leading scorer, Michaud Reyna, tallied eight of his 21 points in a 3:18 span to close out the first half. The 6-foot-0 guard led his teammates by causing numerous turnovers with their helter-skelter man-to-man press.
“That Howard team spread the ball well, they passed until they got an open shot and shot good shots,” said Blake coach Marcus Wiggins. “We played them tough. But we gave them a lot of buckets by turning the ball over in the first half. That was the big thing.
“We were pretty prepared for their offense but they made us turn the ball over in a lot of cases. That press that they were running, we knew it was coming, but we didn’t necessarily handle it well in the first half. In the second half, we did a much better job.”
Ojinnaka eventually fouled out of the game, but not before recording a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds. Jamal Nganga and Nathan Bonsu added 12 and eight points, respectively. In all, nine Bengals reached the scoring column.
“We have really good team chemistry. So, we always pass the ball [well],” said Ojinnaka, who also added three assists. “Our coach always tells us to ‘swing, swing, swing the ball’ for the entire game, so we’re always able to find the open man.”
On Thursday, Blake will try to avenge two earlier losses to Springbrook, including a 77-40 loss on Jan. 28.
“We’ve got to go hard and leave it out on the floor. We already know how they play already. We’ve just got to go hard.” Ojinnaka said.
Howard’s C.J. Savage was the only other Lions’ player to finish in double figures with 11 points, including a half-court heave at the end of the third quarter.
James H. Blake 68, Howard 57
Howard 6 19 6 26 — 57
J.H. Blake 4 17 25 12 — 68
Howard — Christian Dargan 8, Walter Okoye 2, C.J. Savage 11, Michaud Reyna 21, Jared Noble 8, Clay Bartnik 2, Dakwonte Avery 4, Deondre Robinson 1.
Jams H. Blake — Brian Ferguson 2, Duane Davis 13, Demonte Ojinnaka 10, Paul Tabe 13, Jamal Nganga 12, Thomas Stanton 1, Nathan Bonsu 8, Jack Tempchin 5, Derek Ogbona 3.