A ‘Cat’ above the rest: Potomac State qualifies for nationals
By Michael Minnich Sports Editor Mineral Daily News Tribune
HAGERSTOWN, Md.—The Potomac State College Catamounts are going to the national tournament for the first time since the late 1970s.
The fouth-seeded Catamounts upset the top-seeded Howard Dragons, 74-69, in the NJCAA Region XX-A championship game to earn one of 16 spots at the NJCAA Division II tournament, held in Danville, Illinois from March 18 to 22.
“It feels great,” said PSC head coach Justin Anderson. “The biggest thing is, these guys will always remember this experience for the rest of their lives. That’s just special.”
Tournament Most Valuable Player Reggie Baker scored 24 points, including a pair of clutch free throws with his team leading by one and 23.4 seconds left.
“A game like this, every possession mattered,” said Baker. “We just had to get through it, and we did.”
Derylton Hill had two big put-backs to keep a late Howard run at bay; the all-tournament selection finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds.
The smallest man on the court also played a huge role in slaying the Dragons: Marcus Banks played all 40 minutes, scoring 21 points, to also earn all-tournament honors.
“Marcus has become a leader,” said Anderson. “Marcus has become a floor general. He understands what we want, and he executes that. He did a tremendous job today.”
Olukayode Ajenifuja scored 23 and had nine rebounds for Howard, while Jeff James scored 14 and Omari Ringgold 13.
Ringgold scored the game's first five points, then Potomac State pulled within one on baskets by Derylton Hill and Marcus James.
Howard stretched their lead to 12-6 at the 15:14 mark of the first half, with a Reggie Baker jumper the only PSC points, forcing the Catamounts to call a timeout.
Howard stretched their advantage to 16-9, but then PSC finally settled in, going on an 8-2 run, with Marcus Banks scoring five, to cut the deficit to three at 18-15.
After a Jeff James free throw for Howard, Baker canned a three to bring PSC back within a point.
Howard re-built some breathing room on a Ian Vazquez three and a Kayode Ajenifuja stick-back, but then the Catamounts knocked the air back out.
After two Ketrick Bartley free throws, Banks' three pulled PSC within one, then a Hill layup gave the Catamounts their first lead, 25-24, with 6:07 to go in the half.
Add in another Hill basket and a Banks free throw, and the Catamounts had a 10-0 run and a 28-24 lead.
Ajenifuja's three-point play restored some of Howard's momentum, but another 9-0 PSC run, keyed by a Banks three and four straight points from Baker, pushed the underdogs ahead by 10, 37-27, with 2:22 left.
Banks beat the first-half buzzer with a mid-range jumper: 41-29, PSC, at the break.
The Catamounts stretched the lead to 14 at 46-32 on a Hill layup, but Howard’s Ajenifuja scored the next six points.
Banks’ three and Baker’s layup moved the advantage back to 13, 51-38, with 14 minutes left.
But Howard, trailing by 13 two minutes later, made their big move: a 14-2 run, with Ajenifuja, Ringgold, and Vasquez carrying the load, cut the PSC lead to a single point, 57-56, with seven minutes left.
Two Baker free throws and a Derondell Jenkins turnaround shot gave PSC a bit more of a cushion, and the lead went back up to seven with 4:14 to go thanks to two stick-backs by Hill after a Julian Davis layup.
Trailing 69-62 with 2:05 left, Howard had one more big run in them.
Jeff James scored the next five points for Howard, who then had a good look from three to take the lead rim out.
Jamal Ferguson made one of two free throws for PSC with 40.7 seconds left, then Davis went 2-for-2 with 31.1 ticks remaining: 70-69, PSC.
Howard forced a jump ball on PSC’s next trip, but the arrow was pointing PSC’s way.
The Dragons were forced to foul, and the Catamounts had the man they wanted on the line: Baker made both.
Davis drew another foul the other way, but missed the front end of the 1-and-1.
Marcus James was the next Cat to make the trip to the line, and he hit one of two to make it a two-possession game.
Howard missed a three, and the rebound was batted out to Banks, who was fouled very hard.
Likely still a bit shaken up, the PSC point guard missed both tries, but the intentional foul meant that the Catamounts kept the ball.
Off of the inbounds pass, Baker was fouled, and he hit one of two to seal the game.
“I just give God all the glory, man. All the glory,” said Baker. “I’m just thankful.”
Potomac State enters the tournament with a 20-8 record; their opponent is yet to be determined.
“We started this year with the motto of, ‘It’s easier to get easier and it’s tougher to get tough.’ We were able to respond today. These guys played as hard as they possibly could for 40 minutes. We were able to put that together,” said Anderson.
“I told them they could be special, and today, they were special.”