NEWARK – First, St. Georges weathered the storm.
Then the Hawks unleashed a downpour on Mount Pleasant’s parade.
St. Georges dug its way out of a dunk-fueled, 13-point crater that had a crowd of 3,366 rocking at the Bob Carpenter Center on Sunday night. The Hawks gradually pulled even, then blew away the top-seeded Green Knights in the fourth quarter for a stunning, 64-48 victory in the quarterfinals of the DIAA Boys Basketball Tournament.
Senior All-State guard Kyson Rawls was the ringleader, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists and making the right play at the right time all night. He emerged from a jubilant locker room wearing a white T-shirt and a 1,000-watt smile.
“That locker room was fun, man,” Rawls said. “Everybody was dancing, enjoying themselves. Everybody doubted us, but this whole time we were prepared. We knew what we had to do, and we just did it. We just slayed the dragon.”
Ninth-seeded St. Georges (19-4) reached the semifinals for the third time in four years. The Hawks will meet fifth-seeded Smyrna at 8 p.m. Thursday. But first, they will savor this one.
“We spotted them a little bit, then we finally came around and played the game of the year,” St. Georges coach Rod Griffin said. “We’ve been waiting for this game for a long time.”
Mount Pleasant (19-4) was flying high early, and nobody was flying higher than KVonn Cramer. The 6-foot-5 sophomore threw down three dunks in the first six minutes – the first off of Fah’Mir Ali’s lob and the next two off of Green Knights misses.
Then Ali turned a steal into a layup, and Griffin scrambled for a timeout with the Hawks down 15-4. Two free throws by Doug Sneh made it 17-4 with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
“We just had to put a body on him,” Rawls said of Cramer. “He’s athletic, he can jump with the best of them. He almost put one back on my head.”
St. Georges started chipping away, pulling within 25-18 on Rawls’ 3-pointer. Then Nah’Shon Hyland hit a shake-and-bake 3 to get the Hawks within 27-23. Mount Pleasant led 29-25 at the half, but Griffin was happy.
“Coming from 13 down to making it a four-point game at halftime, I said, ‘OK, we’re in good shape,’” the coach said.
Rawls’ fast-break score pushed St. Georges ahead 32-31 with 5:30 left in the third quarter, its first lead since 2-0. But the Green Knights surged, going up 38-34 on Cramer’s jump hook.
Cramer converted Ali’s assist for Mount Pleasant’s last lead of the night, 42-40, with 7:06 to play. Then Rawls took over.
The 6-1 senior dropped a 3-pointer from the left corner. Then he made a steal, drew contact from Cramer while banking in a layup and completed a three-point play. Then he dribbled in a figure eight before jetting a pass to Ethen Brown for a layup that pushed the Hawks up 48-42.
“I’ve been here before,” said Rawls, who was playing his seventh game on this floor. “I kept telling everybody, ‘I’ve got you, I’ve got you. We’re fine.’ Just being the leader I am, fourth-year senior, this is my third year at the Bob, I knew exactly what I had to do to rally my teammates together. And everybody stepped up.”
The Green Knights missed two free throws, and St. Georges put the hammer down. Brown assisted on Michael McCants’ layup. Tristan Guild scored on an inbounds play. Then Rawls hit a free throw and scored on another inbounds play to complete a 15-0 run.
Just like that, the Hawks led 55-42 with 4:09 left.
“He had some special moments tonight,” Griffin said of Rawls. “That’s the best he’s played… As far as his career, he’s had a lot of great performances, and I put this one right up there at the top.”
The Green Knights battled but could get no closer than eight the rest of the way. It was a shocking end for a team that reached the state semifinals last season.
Hyland added 13 points, Guild chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds and McCants also scored 10 for St. Georges. Mount Pleasant got 16 points and eight rebounds from Cramer, and 16 points and seven boards from Ny’Jere Hodges.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ