FREDERICK — Coming off the heels of their worst outing of the season last Tuesday, Tuscarora knew the roadblock that deterred offensive ineptitude in the CMC championship loss to Oakdale was only a hallucination. All of the opportunities are there for the Titans grasp, they just need to recognize them and selflessly attack.
Though Obe Noel is one of the state’s top scorers (22.3 points), he, at times, falls victim to such hallucinations, like pressing the envelope on offensive possessions and simply trying to do too much. When Tuscarora held a 10-point lead deep in the third quarter on Tuesday, Noal knifed through the lane, and if it were him last Tuesday, he’d probably attempt an awkward, contested layup.
Instead the senior guard sucked Frederick’s 2-3 zone inward and kicked out a pass to a wide-open Kevin Bell on the right wing. Bell drilled the catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to push the Titan lead to 16 and upstart a second half surge that slammed the door on Frederick’s postseason prospects.
Two possessions later, Noel duplicated the sequence: Cut through the lane and deliver a textbook dish in the shooting pocket of Bell, who hit his second 3 of the night and ballooned the Titans’ lead to 13.
“Just passing up a good shot for a great shot,” Noel said after No. 11 Tuscarora defeated Frederick 48-36 in the Class 3A West Section II semifinals. “[Bell] was wide-open. I could’ve shot it, but he was wide open. I have confidence in my teammates. This is what it’s all about, it’s playoffs.”
Frederick only led twice, when Dwayne Garner hit a pullup jumper in the opening seconds that gave the Cadets a 2-0 lead and then an Eyan Coley transition basket to make it 4-2. But that was it. Tuscarora, who advances to the 3A West region semifinals against Linganore on Thursday, dictated the pace with self-disciplined offense backed by stingy, hard-nosed defense.
Tuscarora held Frederick’s frontcourt tandem Garner and Jayme Sappington, both averaging over 14 points a game this year, to 15 combined points on Tuesday.
“Our gameplan was we had to play good, solid team defense and be disciplined. The double-D, discipline and defense, and let everything take care of itself,” Tuscarora coach Darryl Whiten said. “That’s something we honed in on [after] Oakdale. We thought that we weren’t discipline, and we thought that we weren’t patient at times, and when we ended up being patient and discipline, we got right back into the game. That’s one of the things we’ve been focusing on.”
The 36 points Frederick mustered was their lowest offensive output of the year. In fact, the Cadets never scored lower than 50 in a game this year, and their previous low was 52.
After Frederick held their last lead of the night at 4-2, Tuscarora capped the first quarter on a 12-2 run keyed by two layups from Noel and buckets by 6-foot-6 forward Kyle Lepkowski, who also registered three blocks.
Noel extended the Titan advantage to 16-6 to open the second, and while Frederick drew within six before halftime, Tuscarora took a 25-14 lead into the break.
Jaylen Washington, who stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks, drilled a 3 to give Tuscarora 30-17 lead in the third period before Bell (10 points, five rebounds) rattled off an eight-point burst to mount a 38-25 Titan lead into the final quarter.
“I knew playoff time is one-and-done,” Washington said. “And if we played the way we did against Oakdale, we weren’t going to beat Frederick. They’re a good team, but if we play together, we’re better.”
Frederick teetered with the deficit, but never drew closer than nine. Garner clutched a 3 in the right corner off an inbounds to make it 42-33, but Noel’s emphatic fastbreak slam two possessions later suppressed the sliver of momentum Frederick was desperately trying to hold on to.
On the cusp of the region semifinals, Tuscarora may have turned in one of the best overall team performances of the season after submitting their worst a week ago.
“It’s definitely up there,” Washington said. “It’s a big one, a good one. We needed this.”
Tuscarora will host Linganore on Thursday at 6 p.m., with another shot to get to the region title game. The Titans beat the Lancers 59-50 in their first meeting and thumped them the second time around, 68-43. If they produce a full 32 minutes like they did on Tuesday, it’s clear the Titans harness the highest ceiling in the 3A West.
“I’m not going to be averaging 30 points, 20 points in the playoffs,” Noel said. “I’m going to try to get everyone else involved so we can make this thing happen. At the end of the day, it’s all about the championship.”