CENTREVILLE — The Lions are learning how to effectively close games.
Against Colonel Richardson, Friday evening on Hyde Court, the Queen Anne’s County High boys’ basketball team survived a frantic finish to cap a season sweep of the Colonels.
The Lions enjoyed strong performances from Hugh Meehan and Brandon Peoples en route to an exciting, 62-60 victory, their fourth in five games since just about bottoming out during the Governor’s Challenge over the holiday break.
Queen Anne’s, now 6-4 overall and 6-3 in the North Bayside, erased a four-point halftime deficit to edge the Colonels, also 6-4, 6-3. In the Dec. 11 matchup between the two schools, the Lions came back from five down at the break to win, 66-64, on a make by senior Charles Kay at the buzzer.
“I told them ... we’re in good shape, there is no reason for us to panic,” Queen Anne’s head coach Jeff Hollis said of what he imparted to his squad at halftime. “We’ve been going over it in practice a lot: finishing, finishing, finishing, and they were up to the challenge tonight, they finished.”
Meehan, a sophomore forward with a nice touch from all spots, dropped 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and chipped in two each of assists and steals. Meehan was particularly clutch in the second quarter, sinking a pair of 3-pointers, a short jumper and a pair of free throws, helping Queen Anne’s keep close to the Colonels after his team got off to a slow start.
“We got down early in the first quarter, but we stuck together as a team,” Meehan said. “We started hitting our shots, and as the game went on, our defense got the presses going.
“Coach Hollis told us to stay calm,” Meehan added. “It was a little choppy, everybody was talking, there were some iffy calls, and he just told us to stay with it.”
Where Meehan excelled in the middle periods, Peoples was sensational in the fourth quarter. The senior forward scored eight of his 10 points in the deciding period, including a huge, late bucket with a toe on the 3-point line.
Peoples also crashed the boards with abandon in the fourth, grabbing six of his seven rebounds, particularly critical considering the Lions had to go without junior center Jordan Dozier (eight points, six rebounds), who was disqualified midway through the fourth after battling foul trouble throughout.
“When I’m out there, and the game is on the line, I just give everything I have,” Peoples said. “We just had to keep our focus, because end of the day, you can’t say you lost the game to the refs,” Peoples added of the heightened awareness of the physical play by the officials.
The Colonels led 30-26 at the break, taking advantage of the re-enforced hand-checking rules sweeping across the Bayside Conference and the state in general by making 20 trips to the line. Junior Diante Dickerson, who pumped in a game-high 26 points to go with seven rebounds and two steals, shot 10 free throws in the first half and sank six of them; he was 13-for-18 in all from the stripe. Dickerson is now only 30 points away from 1,000 for his career.
Colonel erased an early, 6-5, Queen Anne’s lead with a 10-0 ambush, but the Lions chipped away at the deficit while tightening up the defense, and the Colonels were outscored every quarter but the first while slowly letting the game slip away.
“Offensively, I thought we struggled a bit,” Colonel head coach Brad Plutschak said. “Defensively, you know, some things went well, and we went on a little run, but give them credit: they beat us at home at the buzzer, and today, by two, two wins by a combined four points ... two tough games.”
Trailing for much of the game to that point, Queen Anne’s took the lead for good late in the third quarter, Meehan swishing a 3-pointer from the left corner off a Peoples dish that sent the home fans into a tizzy, and put the Lions ahead, 45-44, heading into the fourth.
“After we got that lead, we just got really aggressive,” Meehan said. “We had our star defender Xavior Jones come out there, we got in our press, and we really started to clamp down, got our energy going.”
Added Peoples: “It was one basket at a time, because we feel like we can beat any team. We believe that we have that confidence. On defense, we wanted to make sure we weren’t giving them open shots. We played all-around good defense, talked to each other and played as a team.”
Peoples sank a soft runner in the lane to open the fourth to make it 47-44, Queen Anne’s, but Dickerson answered with two free throws to shave the Lions’ edge to one. Peoples then splashed a 3-pointer from Meehan for a 50-46 lead, a play kept alive by an offensive rebound by Queen Anne’s senior Nick Dunkerly (seven points, seven rebounds).
Meehan then nailed two from the free-throw line to push the Lions further in front at 52-46, but the Colonels still hung around, eventually accounting for the final score when junior Elijah Stull (15 points) rolled in a lefty layup with 18.6 seconds left to play.
Queen Anne’s created even more distance from two rough showings during the holidays in Salisbury, including a 42-turnover game against Kempsville (Va.) in the first game. The Lions appear to be rounding into form as the season hits the stretch run.
“Second half, we got some calls, got to the line, and we took over after that point,” Meehan said. “We’re right where we want to be right now. We got the wins we wanted, we took tough losses to a couple of teams that might give us the edge in the end, but I think we’re happy with where we are. We’ve improved a lot since last season.”
For Colonel, a game dominated by whistles at both ends ended without one, as the Colonels were unable to wrap up Queen Anne’s on the ensuing inbounds pass following Stull’s lay-in and a timeout. A foul would have potentially extended the game, but the Lions deftly swung the ball all around the hardwood while eluding defenders.
The Colonels have yet to lose back-to-back games this season, but have not enjoyed a win streak longer than two. Plutschak lamented the latest wave of close calls and missed opportunities, but remained upbeat.
“We just couldn’t get squared up for that foul,” Plutschak said. “It’s a weird thing anyway — you spend the whole game telling them not to foul — but the guys know that strategy, and they were trying to give the foul. Just couldn’t get one good enough to get the call and stop the clock.
“We just haven’t quite jelled yet,” Plutschak added. “We’re not where we want to be, and we’re working at it. The kids, they work hard, and they like playing together, but we just got to tighten some stuff up. The effort is there every night, and as long as that’s there, we can fix the other stuff.”
Colonel finished 17-for-43 from the floor, a shade under 40 percent; The Lions were 21-for-46, a solid 46 percent. Colonel made 37 trips to the line, sinking 23; the Lions were 14-for-20, including converting the first eight. Queen Anne’s held a sizable 40-28 edge on the glass, and neither team committed a turnover during the fast-paced fourth quarter.
“We played them too close, they were able to drive on us,” Hollis said. “I told them, ‘Make them make some threes, make someone other than Dickerson beat us.’ We went to a zone, and that really helped us, too.
“We’ve been working on breaking down presses,” Hollis added. “Everyone has been slowing down, everyone understands, and it’s starting to show now.”
Notes: Junior Devrin Turner chipped in eight points for the Lions . ... Senior Romar Jones added nine points for the Colonels.