In early February, after an overtime loss to Broadneck, the Northeast boys basketball team needed to go on a run to have a chance at making the county championship game.
The Eagles have delivered.
A three-game win streak with impressive victories over North County, Arundel and a road demolition of Old Mill have vaulted Northeast (16-4 overall, 13-3 in county) back into second place in Anne Arundel County behind league-leading Annapolis as of February 17. Northeast can clinch a county-championship showdown with the Panthers with a win over Severna Park on February 19.
The Eagles’ most recent victory came in historic fashion: on Friday, February 13, Northeast trounced Old Mill in Millersville, 95-58. Darrell Sheppard poured in a career-high 40 points for the Eagles, setting a new single-game record for points and eclipsing Rick Andercyk’s 38-year-old record of 38 points from 1972.
Sheppard, a versatile 6-foot-4 senior, has the combination of size and speed that gives larger defenders trouble. All of his points against the Patriots came from inside 14 feet as he was able to repeatedly get to the basket.
“I can play anywhere on the court, and because of that, it’s hard to find a defender who can guard me on the block and on the perimeter,” said Sheppard, who credited guards Jaylin Albury and Trent McNeill with getting the ball into his hands. “It feels good to know that I make a big impact to the team and everyone around me is happy. We are all a family and whenever someone gets hot, no matter who it is, we are happy for them.”
Sheppard added 11 rebounds to post his 10th double-double of the season, and he was far from the only Eagle to have a big game. Stephen Haley also notched a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Travis Smoot added 11 points and 5 rebounds. Albury had 9 points, 11 assists and 4 steals, and McNeill scored 6 points to go with 5 assists and 4 steals. Jordan Williams (5 points), Olamide Ajayi (4), Dylan Johnson (3), Mason Kanipe and Brandon Jordan all contributed points in the victory.
While Sheppard’s record-breaking point total was an extreme example, Eagles coach Roger O’Dea has seen contributions from throughout the roster all season long, and anyone is capable of taking his turn in the spotlight.
“We have a different player step up every game,” O’Dea said. “We have four players who get majority of the time but always have a player get in the game and get hot, and [his] playing time increases for that game. It has happened several times this season. The best part is no one complains about playing time and has bought into ‘Team above me.’ Everyone cheers each other on and is happy to see them achieve.”
The Eagles have needed to come together as a team since falling 67-64 in overtime at Broadneck on February 4, and they responded with a pair of close victories in their next two games. On February 7 the Eagles came back from a halftime deficit to top North County at home, 65-55. Trailing 30-28 at halftime, the Eagles went on a 20-6 run in the third quarter en route to winning behind a game-high 19 points by McNeill and a great off-the-bench performance by Richard Stowe III, who provided excellent defense against North County’s big men and finished the game with 10 points and 8 rebounds.
On February 12, the Eagles celebrated senior night against Arundel. The Wildcats dealt the Eagles one of their four losses this season back in tournament play over the holidays in a game that didn’t count toward county standing.
Still, the Eagles gained revenge. They downed the Wildcats 61-58, getting a boost from senior Brendan Heptner, who scored 11 points in his senior-night start. Sheppard (15 points and 10 rebounds) and McNeill (14 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds) also had big games in the victory, as did Albury (10 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds) and Haley (7 points and 7 rebounds).
The Eagles will look to clinch a rematch with Annapolis in the county title game on February 22 with a win over Severna Park on February 19. The Panthers defeated Northeast 67-58 on January 14. Perhaps more importantly, at 16-4 overall, Northeast also has a hold on the No. 1 seed for the region playoffs beginning late this month.
Independent of outcomes, O’Dea sees an Eagle team with great character and the mentality to contribute positively to their team and school community.
“Character-wise, we just have a great group of guys, one through 13,” said O’Dea. “We have shown some real toughness, mental and physical. The team has bought into drawing charges, diving for loose balls and sacrificing their bodies to make plays. ... I am very proud of how hard these young men have worked doing the offseason and during the season, on and off the court. This group has been very involved with the school, participating in many activities and clubs outside of basketball. They have become role models for the younger kids in the community, especially through the relationships they have made from camp and visiting the elementary schools to read to them. This group has really bought into everything our staff has asked for. It starts with my captains, Trent McNeill and Jaylin Albury. Everyone on the team believes in each other and is always there to pick each other up. The cohesion by far is what I think I am the most proud of.”