Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008

Victorious Mustangs play smart

Up-tempo offense, strong free-throw shooting pace Mustangs to WCAC title

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After the Bishop McNamara High School girls’ basketball team defeated Good Counsel, 52-38, for its first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in five years, the players danced while posing for photos with the trophy and coach Robert Surratt put on the biggest smile he had all season.

‘‘We made our free throws!” he said excitedly.

The Mustangs picked apart the Falcons and ended their 24-game winning streak in Monday’s WCAC title game at American University by doing the small things right, including shooting 22 for 24 from the foul line and holding Good Counsel to its second-fewest points this season.

The five senior starters, who had played together for Surratt’s AAU squads since elementary school, led McNamara’s best team effort of the season as it finally won in its fourth championship-game appearance since last winning the title in 2003. Tiana Myers scored 19 points and went 11 for 11 from the foul line, a drastic improvement from her team’s 54-50 win against defending champion Holy Cross in the semifinals a day earlier, when McNamara made just 10 of 24 free throws.

‘‘That’s just practice,” Myers said. ‘‘Free throws win ballgames, and when it’s all or nothing, you just have to make those shots.”

McNamara (23-7) amassed 19 steals, including six by Ebony Edwards (nine points) and five by Tierra Thomas (eight points) as it ended Good Counsel’s streak of 13 games with at least 50 points. Thomas also grabbed nine rebounds while Alexis Canady had eight, and Kala Nwachukwu added eight points.

Virginia Tech-bound Shanel Harrison led the Falcons (28-3) with 14 points, but the Mustangs held her scoreless until she made back-to-back jumpers and drove the baseline during a 6-2 run that left the Mustangs clinging to a 22-21 halftime lead.

McNamara made its up-tempo offense work from the opening tipoff, which helped the Mustangs gain an early lead that they maintained the entire game. This was a change from the last two meetings with the Falcons, when slow starts came back to hurt the Mustangs.

‘‘We wanted to push the ball up on the first opportunity so we can get easy baskets,” Myers said. ‘‘That’s what we tried to do today, play team basketball.”

The Mustangs led by as many as eight in the first half before Harrison’s baskets cut the difference to one at halftime. Although both teams went the last 1 minute, 45 seconds before halftime without a point, it didn’t hinder McNamara’s momentum in the third quarter.

Harrison made a free throw to tie the game at 22 less than a minute in and one more a minute later when Canady drew a technical foul to make McNamara’s lead 24-23. Thomas stripped Good Counsel of its next possession for the first of three third-quarter steals, and Edwards and Myers each completed three-point plays to extend the Mustangs’ lead to 40-32 entering the fourth quarter

McNamara then put Good Counsel in a vice, forcing five turnovers before the Falcons’ Harrison made a layup to end a six-minute scoring drought. But with less than two minutes left, the Mustangs were in control with a 48-34 lead. Edwards interrupted Good Counsel’s last possession with a steal, dribbled down the court and threw the ball into the air as the horn sounded. McNamara fans poured out of the stands and jumped over their team’s bench and mobbed the Mustangs at center court.

‘‘These seniors came in here and became varsity players as freshmen,” Surratt said. ‘‘They are fourth-year varsity players, and they deserved this going out the door their senior year. They worked too hard not to get here.”

The Mustangs will play D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association champion H.D. Woodson Theodore Roosevelt for the City Title on Tuesday at Verizon Center.

E-mail Kevin Hilgers at khilgers@gazette.net.