Beth Tfiloh junior guard Michael Cohen saved his best for his team’s most important game of the season Sunday.
Cohen scored 16 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter of a 65-58 victory over Saints Peter & Paul in the MIAA C basketball championship game at UMBC’s Chesapeake Employees Insurance Arena for the Warriors’ first league boys title since 2000.
“It was amazing,” Cohen said. “There was a lot of hype and support to get this. It was just unbelievable.”
After a back-and-forth game, the Sabres took a 42-41 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cohen took over from there – getting the lead back for Beth Tfiloh (24-10 overall) with a layup on the next play. He followed that with an assist in transition to junior Elan Vogelstein for a 3-point lead.
“My speed really helps me to the paint, to change direction,” Cohen said. “Playing fast-paced, that is just who I am.”
Moments later, senior Sam Gruenberg scored inside to finish a 6-0 spurt by the Warriors that gave them a 47-42 lead.
Saints Peter and Paul (13-8) closed to within three points several times down the stretch of the game, but each time Cohen used his speed to get to the basket for a score or a trip to the line.
The junior struggled early in the game with his free throws, but hit four of his last five at the charity stripe to help the Warriors maintain their lead.
“He is just so fast,” Beth Tfiloh head coach Ari Braun said of Cohen. “Unbelievable job...He’s been averaging 17 points a game since January, so this has been building.”
Cohen was a disruptive force from the tip – scoring nine points in the fourth quarter as Beth Tfiloh pushed out to 16-12 lead.
Sophomore Garett Hemingway helped keep the Sabres within striking distance with 8 points in the first half as Saints Peter & Paul trailed by four at the midway point.
The game stayed close in the third quarter with Beth Tfiloh clinging to a slim lead until the final minute. With 40 seconds left in the third quarter, freshman Robbie Cunningham gave the Sabres their first lead since it was 4-3 in the first.
Cohen closed the quarter with a mad dash to the hoop and earned a trip to the line to put the Warriors back up by a point at 41-40. That played turned out to a preview of what was to come in the fourth quarter from Cohen.
“When they went on their run, we weren’t getting stops so we couldn’t get in transition,” Braun said. “Once our defense settled down and got a couple of stops, so now Michael could get in transition. Then even in the halfcourt, now we are moving the ball a little better. Things started to open up a little bit.”
A big part of the story in the fourth quarter was Beth Tfiloh’s ability to stay on the attack. With Cohen
leading the way, the Warriors took 13 foul shots and made 8 of them in the decisive quarter.
Meanwhile, the Sabres earned just two trips to the line and cashed in only one free throw in the fourth quarter, despite being in the double bonus after Beth Tfiloh picked up its 10th team foul early in the fourth.
Prior to Sunday’s title game, the two teams split their regular season meetings with each team earning a lopsided win on the other team’s homecourt. On Jan. 17, the Sabres won 58-47 at Beth Tfiloh and the Warriors responded with a 67-46 victory on Feb. 7.
Braun pointed to the Jan. 17 game, as well as a few other early season losses, as building blocks for his team on their way to a championship.
“This is something that has been building all season,” Braun said. “We started off struggling a little bit. We talked about putting it in our bank – all these experiences that we went through. We could have folded [trailing] 41-40 but these kids are unbelievably tough mentally. We take a timeout, we sit down and didn’t make major changes. We just said, “We’ve been here before, we’ve know what to do, let’s just get it done.”
Meanwhile, for Saints Peter and Paul the future could be very bright after being led in the game by a pair of talented sophomores. Ja’ Kai Brooks had 15, while Hemingway had 14.
“The future is bright,” Sabres coach Gary Gould said. “It’s been awesome this year. We ended up winning 11 of the last 14. We got into a defensive groove. We understand that if we rebounded and run, it was very effective. They limited us in our running a little bit. But overall, our future is bright.”
For Gruenberg, one of nine seniors, Sunday’s championship breakthrough for the Warriors was been a long time coming after early postseason exits the previous seasons.
“We worked hard all season,” Gruenberg said. “We have been in the gym since the beginning of the school year – working hard. It feels amazing, six months later to be right here. I have been on so many teams on this school that lost in the semifinals. To be here – it’s a great feeling.”
MIAA C CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
BETH TFILOH 65, SAINTS PETER & PAUL 58
Saints Peter and Paul - Ja’Kai Brooks 15, Garett Hemingway 14, Davis Kimminou 8, Finn O’Neill 7, Brayden Smith 7, K’Den Spears 3, Robbie Cunningham 2, Brandon Kealy 2. Totals: 18 15- 22 58.
Beth Tfiloh: Michael Cohen 35, Sam Gruenberg 16, Elan Vogelstein 6, Ezra Glazer 4, Eli Wahlberg 3, Jake Schloss 1. Totals: 21 21-34 65.
Saints Peter and Paul 12 12 16 18 – 58
Beth Tfiloh 16 12 13 24 – 65