Annapolis survives battle with Meade in final regular season game
Annapolis survives battle with Meade in final regular season game Meade
Sometimes it’s easier to hide your best weapon when he’s not a senior. People tend to overlook youth in favor of experience, especially when it comes to high school. But after watching Byron Ireland zigzag through Meade defenders to drop tie-breaking baskets, direct Annapolis traffic on the court and battle out rebounds in opportune moments, the Panthers’ top gun wasn’t a secret to Mustangs coach Mike Glick anymore. “Ireland is one of the best players in the league if not the best player in the league,” Glick said. “He’s a tremendous, tremendous player. He took the game over and was one of the primary reasons that they won. All credit goes to him.” Broadneck's victory over North County comes with benefits Ireland had stepped up more and more lately, Annapolis coach Dan Smalley said, and no more than Thursday night. The sophomore was necessary for the Panthers to survive a one-possession game, defeating Meade, 65-62, in the final bout of the regular season.
Ireland piled up 26 points – 13 in each half – to power the Panthers. Smalley knows there’s going to be a target on his guard’s back come March. “He’s going to be critical in the playoffs,” Smalley said. “…I hope other people step up because that’s the way it’s going to be. Old Mill secures spot in boys county championship When no one in black or white could find their way in the net in the first, Ireland was the first to strike. His layup started a small Annapolis lead that Meade found its way to tie, thanks to Tre Dunn, Mazhi Thames (24 points) and TJ Speight’s field goals and an assortment of free throws. The Panthers held their advantage by a thread, 9-8. “They were box and one. I think box and one was a very good gameplan. It caught us off guard a little bit,” Glick said. “We got down 5-0 then we started scoring, adjusting and got the ball in the basket.” And yet, the Mustangs were already running into their literal biggest problem – Xavier Green. The sophomore had at least half a head on any Meade player, a plus he demonstrated in a slam-dunk followed by punching the ball out of the Mustangs’ hands on their next possession. “We just gotta try to keep a body on him,” Thames said. “You got to box him out because once he gets it, he’s guaranteed two points.” Even as Meade stepped ahead to open the second, Ireland snatched the lead right back as his 3-pointer kissed the strings, following up with a steal to layup sequence. But if the Mustangs were fazed, they certainly didn’t show it. Speight knotted things at 16; when Dunn couldn’t convert Thames’ assist into a dunk, he tapped it in for two instead, which, of course would have been two either way to tie again at 20.
If Zion Green hadn’t stepped up, things might’ve remained that way for halftime, but the senior had a different plan. He first squashed the prospect of a Meade takeover – for the moment – with three. J’Quan Graves then fed him a pass for two. It was enough to secure the Panthers’ one-point advantage, 30-29, at the break. It wasn’t enough to hold the Mustangs back. “Big picture: that was a one-possession game,” Glick said. “Like all the games in the league, it could go either way.” On first touch, Speight potted the ball for two – and the lead change. Even as Ireland stepped in to score Annapolis’ first basket of the quarter three minutes in, it paled in comparison to what Meade was generating. Nick Haylock hit three; Speight hit another two. “We didn’t have any energy in defense,” Smalley said. Thames had just five points in the third, but he knew how to make them count. He dodged Ireland as the final seconds of the quarter ticked down, gazed up at the net. When the ball left his fingers, Meade had already secured its biggest lead of the game – but it didn’t hurt to add three points. Down 48-39, the Panthers needed to move like they’d all been given jolts of caffeine. And they did – Xavier Green and Ireland peppered the net with baskets, as well as Demari Turner, for two, and Demeiko Ross, his first field goal of the night counting for three. “They’re a good team, but I trust my teammates,” Ireland said. “I get my teammates involved and take over the game.” The Mustangs managed to stave Annapolis off – when the Panthers would get a hit, Meade would hit right back – but that couldn’t last forever.
“Our defense was excellent. We were controlling the boards. We were definitely in position to win the game,” Glick said. “I thought the deciding factor in the game was when Tre Dunn fouled out.” On back-to-back fouls, Meade had lost its “best rebounder and shot-blocker” for the game. Thames estimates at that point, Annapolis was simply out-hustling the Mustangs, winning more often on 50/50 balls. It was enough to win it all. “Finally, we started playing a little harder and everything got easier for us,” Smalley said. Glick didn’t let his players treat the game like a loss for long. The promise of winning was just around the corner – after a bye, Meade, seeded second in Section I, will take on the winner of Glen Burnie/Arundel in the upcoming Class 4A East Region playoffs. “I told them in there, they’re a championship team; we’re right where we want to be. Now we just gotta get a little bit better,” Glick said. “I thought it was a championship game and a great game for us to end the season on to start the playoffs.”