Berry Academy leaned on its experience at the right time in the SoMeck 4A boys’ basketball semifinals.
The most mature of Cardinals – seniors Devarious Christian and Josh Lancaster as well as junior Quendon Cottman – combined for 16 of Berry’s 20 fourth-quarter points in a 63-59 win against Harding High on the Cardinals’ home floor. Berry (22-3) plays Ardrey Kell, which beat Olympic 59-53 Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game.
Cottman, a 6-foot-2 wing, led all scorers with 20 points, while Christian added 14 and Matthew Powell 10. Tarrick Perry and Karl Hankton paced Harding with 14 points each.
“For some reason we got rattled,” Cardinals coach Maurice Jones said. “My seniors and juniors who’ve been there before … kind of pulled guys together and pushed me out of the huddle. They said we’re here for a reason and we’ve got to have each other’s back. They pretty much sucked it up and got it done for us.”
The trio was especially tough down the stretch, scoring all but three of 18 Berry points during the final 6 minutes, 27 seconds. Lancaster, the Cardinals’ point guard, orchestrated the offense. Christian, the 6-foot-7 center, knocked down six points and contributed key defensive plays and Cottman drove the paint.
“Those seniors have built a culture of winning,” Jones said. “They’ve won some games this year and they’ve learned to not hang their heads or get rattled because they understand this is a game of runs. You’ve got to be able to weather storms.”
Harding (13-13) gave Berry all it could handle by outscoring the Cardinals 15-10 in the third quarter to go ahead 46-43 with eight minutes left. Perry, a sophomore guard, and Hankton, a freshman center, each scored 14 points to lead Harding, but they couldn’t hold off Berry’s charge, which started on Powell’s three-point shot for a 48-47 advantage 90 seconds into the fourth.
“We improved on offense but defense was our main focus tonight,” Rams coach Walter Aikens said. “When we got stops, we kind of slowed them down and got settled on offense, we got buckets out of a lot of different people.”
Berry bolted to a 20-8 to open the game, but Harding climbed into contention in the second quarter with a 16-9 run sparked by Hankton and Rashaan Richardson, who scored four points each. The Rams also found ways to cool the Cardinals from the perimeter, where they found success in the first quarter. Cottman led the Cardinals 13 points in the half, including eight in the first quarter. Hankton scored nine for Harding.
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