By Kevin O’Rourke
Officially it was the No. 5 seed beating the No. 2 seed, and you can could call it an upset. But nobody that has been watching the Seneca Valley boys basketball team would call it that. Seneca Valley vanquished the Wheaton Knights 53-49 today to win the Montgomery County Division 3A title.
In reality, it was the No. 1 seed visiting and beating the No. 2 seed, as Seneca Valley defeated Wheaton for the third time this year. A quirk of the rule book, had the Eagles visiting the Knights and not the other way around.
“This win erases all the seeding penalties and puts us back where we should have been,” said Seneca Valley’s Athletic Director Jesse Irvin after the win. The Eagles were forced to forfeit their first five victories due to a “residency issue” which dropped them into the fifth seed.
Seneca Valley’s coaches, players and athletic director all seemed to shrug off the penalty as “no big deal” but in reality it was a big blow to a program that is trying to crawl back from two very tough seasons.
The penalty forced the Eagles to win three road games against the best of the rest in the 3A Division in Montgomery County. To make this trip to the “3A Elite Eight in the State,” Seneca had to beat Rockville for a second time this season, and Einstein and Wheaton for a third time.
“To beat a team twice in season is hard,” said Seneca Valley sophomore Brandon Simpson after the game, “but beat a team three times – that’s just crazy.” Seneca Valley did that twice in this playoff run.
This might be a good time to point out that the last time the Seneca Valley boys basketball program won playoff a game was six years ago during the 2008-2009 season. That year the Eagles went to the State Championship game but came up short against Clifton Lake.
In the two seasons prior to first-year Head Coach Brian Humphrey taking over the program, Seneca Valley was 1-50. That is not a typo, that is one win and fifty loses in two seasons of basketball.
When the playoff seedings were announced last week and the news of Seneca’s punishment was released, Seneca Valley’s AD Jesse Irvin said, “We are extremely proud of the way [the players] handled it. They won on the court and they know what they are capable of. They are aware of the low seed and are moving forward, knowing it doesn’t matter where the games are played, they have to beat the teams they are told to play.”
That is exactly what they did.
In doing so Humphrey, his assistants, and his team have brought pride back to the Seneca Valley’s basketball program.
“This is a blessing. Everyone doubted us this year,” said Simpson after the game. “No one thought we were going to go this far and we proved everyone wrong.”
“After Coach Humphrey came in everything just changed,” said Simpson. “The whole program just turned around in a positive direction.”
Although, the result of Saturday’s game at Wheaton was in question until the final minutes. After leading 10-8 at the end of the first quarter, the Eagles overcame a terrible second quarter in which the Knights went on 14-2 run to take a 21-12 lead with 3:55 remaining in the quarter.
“We didn’t get back on defense,” said Seneca Valley Head Coach Brian Humphrey of the near collapse in the second quarter. “We were sending all five guys to the board to rebound, and as a result, they were getting points in transition. If we were going to play an up and down game, and not get back in transition they were going to beat us for sure.”
“We started slow but we came back,” said Seneca Valley junior William Craig. “We were fighting. We never gave up. Coach continued to tell us to keep our head in the game and keep composure.”
Humphrey adjusted by making sure that two Eagles were getting back on the shot, to slow the Knights transition game. “We made them play their half-court offense against our defense, rather than just getting lay-ups in transition,” said Humphrey.
Eventually, the Eagles would pull out of the nosedive. It was Seneca’s freshmen sensation Triston Price that stopped the bleeding with a three-pointer late in the quarter. The Eagles free-throw shooting would keep them in the game and cut the Knight’s lead to just three at halftime, 24-21.
During the halftime break, Humphrey reminded his team that the last time they played in the Wheaton gym, back on February 6, they were losing by three at halftime. “We talked about how we had been here in the past. The last time we played here it was pretty close at half, I think we were down by three and we came out we played pretty well in the third to take the game.”
“Going into the second half, we came out as a family and played together,” said Price after the game. “In the first half, I felt like we were playing their game.” Price would finish with 15 points to lead all scorers.
The thing about this Seneca Valley group is that they are a team. Each game is a different group of guys that step up. There is nobody scoring 20 points per game. There is nobody carrying this team, this team carries each other.
The Eagles know how to play as team and spread the points around. In the victory over Einstein, on Wednesay, it was Quentin Twyman as the scoring leader, with Price, Craig and DeJuan Smith in double-digits. In last week’s game at Rockville, it was Twyman, Kareem Matthew, Smith, Simpson and Craig all in double-digits. While in this game against Wheaton it was Price, Simpson and Craig as scoring leaders.
The Wheaton Knights would continue to cling to the lead throughout much of the third period, with the help of Jacob Payne’s four points. He would finish with 14 to lead the Knights in scoring. Seneca’s sophomore guard Brandon Simpson would hit a jumper to cut the lead to two 28-27 with 3:40 remaining. Simpson would finish with 12 points.
Wheaton would hold tight to narrow lead, as Seneca kept pace coming to within one point and seeing the Knights pull away. The Knights’ lead would expand and Seneca would manage to reel them back in, until the freshman Price would hit a three pointer at with 6:47 remaining in the game giving Seneca Valley the lead, 35-34.
Price extended the lead on the Eagles next trip down the floor. He drove to the basket and was put a floater, and was fouled by Wheaton’s Tyrik Meres. The floater would fall and Price would convert the extra-point to complete the three-point play. Eagles led 38-34.
“I only made one shot the first half,” said Price. “When I saw the three I just took it and it felt good when it came out of my hand and it went in. And that got me hyped.”
The teams would trade baskets and the game would be tied at 39 with 3:15 remaining in regulation when Seneca’s Simpson took a pass from Kareem Matthew on the right wing and popped a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 42-39 advantage. “I got it with my right hand and I was wide open, so I just took it.”
But Wheaton wasn’t done. The Knights’ Stephon Moore put his only field goal of the game in with 1:18 remaining to cut the lead to 42-41. Both teams would continue fighting, Seneca’s Matthew would sink two from the charity stripe which was answered by a Jacob Payne layup for Wheaton. Seneca led 44-43 with 39 seconds left in the game.
On the inbound pass, Seneca’s DeJaun Smth would find a cutting Deonte Nelson for left-handed layup. Nelson’s layup would fall as he was fouled by Wheaton’s Panye. Nelson would sink the free throw, putting Seneca Valley up 47-43 with 36 seconds remaining. Nelson would finish with five points in the victory, none bigger than those three down the stretch.
The teams would trade free throws with Price and Will Craig further extending the Seneca lead and sealing the victory for the Screamin’ Eagles. Craig would finish with nine points and Mathew Kareem had seven points
Seneca Valley will take their 14-8 record on the road as they travel to Linganore to play at 7:00 pm Monday night, in the Division 3A West Regional Championship game. Linganore Lancers are 17-7 after defeating South Hagerstown, 62-51, on Saturday night.
Top: Seneca Valley’s Deonte Nelson (1) puts in a layup and takes the foul late in the Eagles win over Wheaton on Saturday.
Next: Brandon Simpson (3) shoots a three-pointer to break a tie with 3:15 remaining in the game.
Next: Seneca’s Will Craig (24) shoots a jumper but is called for a charge after a collision with Wheaton’s Frank Beton (23).
Next: Wheaton’s Omari Joyner (14) and Seneca’s Quentin Tywman battle for a rebound.
Next: Seneca Valley’s Brandon Simpson (3) goes up strong to the hoop as Wheaton’s Carey Brown (11) and Omari Joyner (14) attempt to defend.
Next: Triston Price (12), Will Craig (24), & Brandon Simpson (3) celebrate during the Seneca Valley's playoff win over Wheaton.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.