LARGO – Through the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the good games and the not-so-good games, the DuVal High School boys basketball team concluded the inaugural Summer Madness league just the way they envisioned it.
Brandon Emmanuel helped the Tigers get off to a strong start and showed determination as he played through a minor ankle injury in the second half. The rising senior forward finished with a team-high 27 points with 12 rebounds to lead DuVal to a narrow victory, 72-67, over St. Vincent Pallotti to win the first-ever Summer Madness title game on July 21.
Emmanuel has shown improvement in his game since the start of the Summer Madness league, according to the coaching staff. His shooting was a large factor in DuVal’s success as he finished the game connecting 13-of-21 of his field goals.
“Brandon for us – he’s our heart and soul. He comes out to play every night no matter what,” Coach Terrence Norris said of Emmanuel’s value to the program.
In addition to trusting the coaching staff, confidence and togetherness were the biggest lessons that DuVal learned as a team throughout the Summer Madness season, added Emmanuel, who was also named the Summer Madness League’s Most Valuable Player.
“I feel like as a team, our chemistry is feeling better, so my team trusts me to do things that I have to trust myself to do. And we just passed the ball around and got good looks at the basket,” he said.
Muhammad Yilmaz was also a major spark for the Tigers early on, who went up 18-6 four minutes into the game. Yilmaz drained 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the first several minutes of action, increasing DuVal’s lead into the double digits. Yilmaz finished with 16 points and three assists.
Pallotti was able to erase an early 12-point deficit by making defensive adjustments midway through the first half as it only trailed by one point heading into the second half. Pallotti’s Wade Jackson was pivotal in the first-half comeback rally.
At the start of the second half with the lead changing multiple times, Emmanuel looked poised to get a block but instead, he landed oddly on an opposing player’s foot. It sidelined him for a few minutes as it was unclear if he could continue.
“At first, I didn’t think I was going to play but I had to fight through it,” Emmanuel said.
Throughout the summer league season, the Tigers built chemistry and trust, Emmanuel said. Instead of worrying about trying to get back in the game quickly, the forward said he trusted his teammates, who contributed immensely to DuVal’s summer league championship run, to lead them to success.
Rising junior forward Golden Okorocha was arguably the X-factor for the Tigers when Emmanuel went down. He snagged 11 offensive boards to record 20 points and 12 total rebounds which helped DuVal solidify their Summer League championship trophy.
“The effort was great. We had a really, really great start,” Norris said of his team’s performance in the afternoon. “We were able to get an eight to 10-point lead late in the game…and we were able to sustain that throughout the course of the game.”
Though undersized, the Panthers have played with a level tenacity, determination and perseverance that has enabled them to come within striking distance of possibly winning the Summer Madness title. To Norris, Pallotti presented a unique challenge for DuVal.
“I told our guys that out of all of the teams in this summer league, I believe that Pallotti played the hardest,” he said, and “if we don’t match their intensity, we won’t come out on the winning side.”
The biggest statistical discrepancy was rebounding. Palotti shot 42.6% from the field, was able to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line more often than DuVal. But Palotti was outrebounded by DuVal the whole game, 41-22, and of those 41 rebounds, they gave up 18 offensive boards.
“They (DuVal) outrebounded us. That was the key I thought. They wanted the rebounds more than us,” Pallotti Coach Dennis Kirkland said.
Kirkland said that Summer Madness was a “good experience” and has high expectations heading into the 2019-2020 season. The Panthers will look to add more depth and continue to practice hard in hopes of becoming a better team this upcoming year, he continued.
“We’re going to expect to compete for the (Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association) championship. People are going to underestimate us, but that’s my expectation,” Kirkland concluded.
Despite being outrebounded and falling short of a late-game comeback, Jackson, one of Palotti’s leaders and standouts, said he was proud of how his team finished considering the odds that were seemingly stacked against them at the beginning of Summer Madness.
“I think (we) did real well. I mean at the end of the day, we’re a smaller team. We don’t have a lot of bigs that are on the team,” Jackson said.“For us, a small team, I think we did well. We’re not even supposed to be here.”
According to Jackson, missing crucial free throws and a few “sloppy” plays at the end of the game prevented the Panthers from rallying back to tie or take the lead.
“Although we like to win, we don’t like to lose, it’s all about growth. So we need to grow as a team, team chemistry,” added Jackson, who led all scorers with 29 points. “We came up short at the end, but at the end of the day everyone played hard and we learned together, so that was good.”