COLLEGE PARK — Boasting a 6-foot-9 frame, La’Quill Hardnett played with tenacious energy and filled the stat sheet as No. 3 Perry Hall advanced past Annapolis in Thursday night’s MPSSAA Class 4A state semifinal game at the Xfinity Center in College Park, 74-63.
Hardnett scored 11 points, grabbed 20 rebounds (seven on the offensive end), dished out six assists) and rejected two shots.
“The way he can rebound, and handle the ball, and attack, and pass, he’s a special player,” Perry Hall coach George Panageotou said of Hardnett.
Displaying an all-around game, Hardnett, who holds an offer from Towson, was motivated by the desire to rebound from the state semifinal loss to Eleanor Roosevelt last year.
“Last year, in this same room, I said ‘we will be back,’” Hardnett said following the game.
Hardnett is joined in the front-court by 6-foot-8 forward Anthony Higgs to give the Gators a clear advantage over the Panthers, who do not have a player over 6-foot-4. The size proved to be a decisive factor in the game as Perry Hall outscored Annapolis 40-28 in the paint and converted an abundance of offensive rebounds to give them 24 second chance points.
From the opening tipoff, when Higgs converted a layup just seven seconds into the game, the Gators were able to score inside with ease. The Panthers, however, did not let their size deficiency keep them out of the game as they kept pace with the Gators, and eventually led 16-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Annapolis kept Perry Hall’s offense off balance in the first half by changing defenses. Panther’s head coach Dan Smalley employed a 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone, 2-1-2 zone, and even a mixture of full-court pressure.
The Panthers took their largest lead of the game, 26-19, when Nyonjae Spriggs’ made a midrange jumper with under five minutes to play before halftime. The Gators had a timely answer to take control of the game as they ended the first half on a 21-10 run, including 12 points around the rim, to give the team a 40-36 halftime lead.
Perry Hall never surrendered the lead, negating countless spurts by Annapolis by making their shots on the offensive end.
Annapolis tied the game at 44-all with three minutes left in the third quarter when Christian Jones (17 points) hit a midrange jumper. Perry Hall then ended the third by scoring six of the next eight points and took a 50-46 lead into the fourth quarter.
Jayson Johnson made a 3-pointer for Annapolis early in the fourth quarter, as they cut their deficit from six to three. As was the case nearly the whole night, Perry Hall relied on inside scoring to thwart Annapolis’ momentum, as Fredo Carter responded with a layup.
Although Perry Hall had a chance to close out the game, holding a six-point lead with just over two minutes to play, they needed to rely on Tyler Holley (game-high 20 points off the bench) to score four consecutive points after Annapolis cut their lead to three once again.
“At the end there, [Tyler]’s like ‘give me the ball coach,’” Panageotou said. “That says something. In the biggest game of the season, he wants the ball.”
Perry Hall advances to the Class 4A state against No. 13 Quince Orchard on Saturday at 8 p.m. Quince Orchard is coming off a thrilling 55-52 win over No. 1 Wise in the other 4A semifinal game on Thursday night.
“We’re prepared, through the 27 games that we played, for a championship game Saturday night,” Panageotou said. “[it will be important to] continue to stay focused for the whole 32 minutes.”