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TOWSON — The Charles H. Flowers High School girls basketball team culminated its 2018-2019 season by winning its first-ever Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A state championship by defeating Old Mill High School (Millersville) 57-42 on March 16 at the SECU Arena in Towson.
Kaniyah Harris went from being held to two points in the opening quarter to totaling a game-high 23 points to go with nine rebounds and three assists, leading the Jaguars to a historic win over the Patriots.
“We were thinking, ‘this is the last game of the season, so we have nothing else to lose,’” Harris said of her team’s mindset approaching the second half, where Flowers outscored the Patriots 34-18 and held them to 25 percent shooting.
“When it came to the second half, we were like, ‘go hard or go home.’ That was literally it. We had nothing else to give.”
A strong start from Old Mill’s Sydney Faulcon, a pivotal post presence, enabled the Patriots to hold the 11-7 advantage at the conclusion of the first. The 6-foot-2 center was dominant in the first half and tallied 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting along with six boards.
A significant part of the Patriots’ early game plan seemed simple: lob the ball to Faulcon for easy lay-ins, and the Jaguars could not seem to find an answer for that strategy early on. But when Faulcon got in foul trouble, picking up a third foul late in the second quarter, Old Mill had to find other ways to put points on the board.
Harris and Indira Nzerue led fastbreaks and scored a series of vital baskets to reduce Flowers’ seven-point deficit to a 24-23 deficit at the half.
The third quarter, however, was when the dynamic of the game shifted. Flowers applied a trap defense that led to consecutive turnovers and easy scores on the offensive end. The Jaguars opened the quarter on a 6-0 scoring run. Faulcon was charged with her fourth foul early in third frame, which prompted Old Mill Head Coach Rick Smith to pull her out of the game until about midway through the fourth.
Jasmine Hilton and Lashawna Robinson played major offensive and defensive roles in the third, ending with Flowers up 33-30, and the momentum going its way.
In the fourth, Hilton continued to knock down free throws and short-range field goals, and Harris led an efficient transition offense to help Flowers extend its lead as the game drew to a close. The junior standout brought equivalent energy on defense and connected on back-to-back layups to give the Jaguars their first double-digit lead of the afternoon, 51-40, with 2:30 remaining.
Missed layups and untimely turnovers hindered the Patriots’ chances of making a comeback. Flowers bled the clock out in the final minute as its fans roared with applause.
The Jaguars culminated their 24-2 season with a 17-game win streak. The Patriots conclude their season with a 22-6 record. Though Old Mill won the rebounding duel 45-42, they committed 29 turnovers – mainly due to Flowers’ smothering defense.
Flowers first-year Head Coach Roderick Hairston acknowledged his team’s resilience in the come-from-behind victory.
“They fought through a tough game, a tough situation. They never quit, they kept believing in one another,” Hairston said. “I’m so proud of these young ladies for making history. This is Flowers’ first state championship as a girls basketball program.”
Leading the way for the Patriots was Faulcon, who scored all 16 of her points in the first half, but was restricted to limited minutes in the second half because of foul trouble.
“I think that I made a really big impact on my team and us growing as a family,” said Faulcon, expounding on the mark she felt like she left on the program. “And all of us working together to come to this point wasn’t only me; it was all of us and all the hard work and the chemistry.”
“I think we played hard. I think we played through a lot of adversity. It was out there today,” said Old Mill Coach Rick Smith following the loss.
“We had girls that were playing with three and four fouls the whole game. Having to work through it, that was a tough team. I’m very proud of this team. We made it farther than, maybe at the beginning of the year, some people thought we would. We were within one game of winning it all, so I’m really proud of this team.”
Smith attributed Flowers’ aggression to his team’s difficulties on offense. Hilton scored 13 for Flowers, including going 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. Nzerue also chipped in with 13 points and eight boards to help Flowers to the victory.
“When the buzzer beater went off, I had tears and started crying,” said Hilton, who suited up for the last time in a Flowers basketball uniform.
“Not sad tears of course, but happy tears, knowing that it was my last game of my high school season and knowing how much work that I went through to get to this point to win a state championship.”