COLLEGE PARK – After surviving a close call in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A Boys Basketball State Semifinals, Eleanor Roosevelt High School showed its dominance, overpowering East Broadneck with a 77-48 victory on March 16 to become state champions for the fourth time.
Last season, the Raiders were stunned in the regional championships with a one-point loss to Bladensburg. Following a 61-45 win over High Point to capture this year’s regional on March 8, history looked doomed to repeat itself as the heavy-favorited Roosevelt battled with North Dulaney on March 14 to determine whether they made it to the state championship game.
After leading the majority of the contest with a lead as high as 15 points, the Raiders were down by one point with 15 seconds left in the game. Senior guard Isaiah Gross caught the ball in the corner and rose up for a 3-pointer but was fouled before his attempt. Gross knocked down all three free throws, which gave his team a two-point lead that held on for the win.
“My point guard Kyle Rose was coming down, and he just dished it to me,” Gross, who finished with a team-high of 16 points, said. “I saw the defender running at me, and I just let it fly. I didn’t think he was going to foul me because my purpose was to hit the shot. Me getting fouled was the icing on the cake to me, so I’m glad he fouled me.”
The state championship game was a completely different story as Roosevelt commanded most of the contest. Early on, Broadneck got off to a hot shooting start as they hit all four of their 3-point attempts and shot 8-12 from the field in the first quarter. They started the game on a 16-7 run, which forced Roosevelt to call a timeout and regroup.
After talking it over, the Raiders ended the quarter on an 11-5 run of their own. Roosevelt entered the second quarter trailing 21-18 after the quick scare by the Bruins.
“Well, we knew they could shoot it,” Roosevelt Head Coach Brendan O’Connell said. “Obviously we didn’t expect them to hit every three they took. I think they took us off guard defensively too because they were trying to take Isaiah out and then they were really play off Cam. I think that disrupted us a little bit early.”
The second quarter became the Cameron Brown and Jaamir Butler show for Roosevelt. The senior guards drove the majority of the Raider offense as they outscored Broadneck 27-8 and held them to 22 percent shooting from the field in the second quarter. Brown converted a fast break drive into a hard slam dunk for two of his double-double performance of 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Butler connected consecutive 3-pointers moments before halftime as he finished the night with 13 points and four steals. The second quarter turnaround awarded Roosevelt a 45-29 lead.
“We all come into the game being aggressive,” Brown said. “They were playing off of me at the beginning of the game when I missed a few shots. It was a little surprising that they sagged off on me, but you just have to adjust to what happens in the game.
“All my teammates and Coach O’Connell kept telling me to keep shooting the ball. A few went in, and I kept getting to the rim, and they told me in transition to keep attacking the rim. My teammates just got me the ball basically, so I appreciate them today.”
In the second half, Roosevelt continued their defensive lockdown as they held Broadneck to six total points and 15 percent shooting from the field. Senior guard Kyle Rose had a big part in their defensive momentum with six steals to go with his 10 assists and six points.
“I never been to a Maryland state championship, so I was a little overwhelmed in the beginning,” Rose said. “After the first quarter everything settled down, coaches told me, and we should be fine. I’m a pass-first type of point guard, so I was looking to get any of my teammates involved and letting the game come to me. I also wanted to play a big part on the defensive end.”
Roosevelt went up by as many as 33 points in the fourth quarter which put the game out of reach. Gross continued the press defensively for the Raiders with his lockdown defense that held the Bruins to just two of 16 from 3-point range after the first quarter and 30 percent shooting overall for the game. Their staggering, aggressive defense was too much for Broadneck to handle, Bruins Head Coach John Williams said.
For Roosevelt, the win capped off a strong end to a dominating season where they went undefeated against public school competition. While remaining coy when asked if this was the strongest team he has ever coached, O’Connell said he was proud that his unselfish team showed that the cliché ‘defense wins championships’ is still true in today’s basketball culture.
“Our motto is defense win games in the first place,” Gross said. “Being a defensive player impacts my game. I noticed that they started to X me on the offensive side, so I wasn’t getting that many touches on the offensive end, but you don’t get touches on the defensive end. So, you just impact the game on the defensive end, and I’m glad my defensive ability helped us get a win.”