Even though they had already beaten Chesapeake by the lopsided score of 72-27 earlier this season, the Northeast boys basketball team had every reason to expect the rivalry rematch on January 17 to be a much closer affair.
The host Cougars did everything they could to pull the game in their direction, but Northeast’s poise in front of a Friday night crowd and big-moment playmaking was enough for the Eagles to prevail with a 46-36 win.
Jaylin Albury led the Eagles with 14 points and 6 assists, Trent McNeill added 10 points and 5 assists, and Darrell Sheppard added 9 points and 8 rebounds for Northeast, which improved to 10-3 overall and kept pace in its quest for top region seeding and a possible berth in the county championship.
Northeast coach Roger O’Dea said he worried his Eagles would be too comfortable against an opponent they had hammered on December 6, but his players kept their edge to win a contest in which neither side played its best game.
“Chesapeake had nothing to lose. They were coming out for pride, and this is a rivalry game,” said O’Dea. “We knew we were in for a dog fight and needed to bring the intensity, and we did.”
The Cougars’ packed gym full of spirited students was given plenty of reason to cheer early, as Chesapeake senior Alonzo Wilkes threw down a pair of thunderous one-handed dunks to open the game. He drove baseline on the game’s opening play and leaped for a jam, then benefitted from Chesapeake’s trap to make a steal and soar for an open-court dunk.
The Cougars led 4-0 and the roof was practically coming off the gym with Chesapeake students going crazy in the stands.
Northeast’s players were unfazed. Albury snaked through Chesapeake’s defense with a Eurostep in traffic for a crafty layup, then threw a behind-the-back pass to McNeill for another score. The Eagles seized back the lead at 8-4.
In the second quarter, Wilkes, who finished with a game-high 20 points and added 13 rebounds and 5 blocks, made an elbow jumper to help Chesapeake regain the lead at 12-10, but that was the last time the Cougars would be in front. After a layup by Northeast’s Travis Smoot, Jordan Williams came off the bench ready to let it fly. Williams caught a pass on the left wing and stroked a 3-pointer, then received a swing pass deep in the left corner and drained another 3 to give the Eagles a 22-15 lead.
Both shots came directly in front of the Chesapeake students, who were letting Williams hear it — and Williams gladly gave it right back to them with a little look after each make.
“I like shooting in front of the crowd, because when I make it, it gives me that feeling,” said Williams, who also hit a pair of big 3-pointers in Northeast’s win over Old Mill on January 10. “When they start talking more, it means I’m doing something and impacting the game, so I like shooting over there.”
Baskets by Olamide Ajayi and Sheppard and a nifty scoop layup by Albury kept Northeast’s momentum going in the third quarter, but Chesapeake responded with a 3-pointer by Reed Rebstock to keep the game close.
A layup by Wilkes capped Chesapeake’s best fourth-quarter effort to claw back into the game, as the Cougars pulled to within four points at 37-33. But Smoot came right back and finished a layup plus the foul after a nice pass from Sheppard. Albury made a strong driving layup and a nice assist to McNeill, and Northeast stretched out play enough to close the game.
Chesapeake’s 3-2 zone gave Northeast some problems throughout the night, but once the Cougars went back to a man defense to throw desperation traps at Northeast in the fourth quarter, O’Dea knew his team’s strengths would carry them to the win.
“We had to fight through adversity and keep it up,” O’Dea said. “We wanted to get some steals and get out in transition, which we did in that fourth quarter to go on that nice little 6-0 run and spread that lead. Once we did that, we kind of took it over, and once they went to the man defense in the final minutes, we knew the game was over. You can’t stop our backcourt with Jaylin and Trent.”
In addition to Wilkes’s big night, the Cougars got contributions from Kareem Francis (6 points, 7 rebounds), Rebstock (3 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Shane Johnson (5 points), Nate Rosado and freshman Darius Gray (2 points and some solid play at the point guard position).
Chesapeake has had notable successes this season — the Cougars beat Meade 66-59, their first win over the Mustangs in over 20 years — but their shots weren’t falling against Northeast, and they were plagued by missed free throws.
“You’ve got to put the ball in the basket,” said Chesapeake coach Shawn Rebstock. “We shoot plenty in practice, we run offense, we had two great days of practice, and the defense isn’t an issue, we’re only giving up 42, 44 points the last two games. We’ve just got to put the ball in the basket, especially down the stretch. It was a good game, but missed shots and missed free throws hurt you.”
For Northeast, Sheppard and Smoot gave up size to Chesapeake’s Wilkes and Zayvin Salmond, but they were still able to rebound and defend effectively.
“Just having confidence and showing our strength down low, battling and being physical,” said Smoot. “That’s what we have to do down there, just fight.”
Now 10-3 overall with county losses to Annapolis and Southern, Northeast is tied for second place in the county with a 7-2 record, with Annapolis holding down the top spot at 8-1. The Eagles could get into the county championship game with continued victories, and they are also tied with Kent Island for the top spot in the 3A South Region II, a region that includes Chesapeake, Easton, Stephen Decatur and J.M. Bennett.
They want to make it back to the state’s final eight, where they fell to Reservoir last season — or further.
“It means a lot because last year we lost in a big game, so now we want to go even farther, but we’ve still got to stay humble,” said Sheppard.
Humility is key, said Smoot.
“We’ve got to stay humble,” Smoot said. “If we get too confident, we lose, and it’s happened before. So we’ve just got to stay humble and keep winning.”