When Mount Carmel girls basketball coach Rob Long signed up for Saturday’s Public vs. Private Challenge, he requested that his team play Forest Park.
Long thought the teams matched up well and played a similar up-tempo style. However, when he got his wish, Long decided to go against the No. 7 Cougars’ style, slow things down and try to keep the score low.
The strategy worked as the Cougars built an eight-point early lead and held off the No. 10 Foresters, who tied the game three times before Mount Carmel pulled away to a 42-38 victory in the finale of the annual day-long mixer at McDonogh School.
“We didn’t want to fast break Forest Park, because we felt like that’s their game, so we played very slow,” Long said. “We wanted the winner under 50 points. We felt like if we got over that, it was their game. That’s not typically us, but we learned that from Poly. We tried to play that game with Poly in the first half and they really got a big lead against us. We came back in the second half and made it a five-point game, but by then, we had run out of gas.”
The Cougars (7-7 overall) lost to No. 1 Poly, 58-44, Wednesday, so Long had the Cougars walk the ball up court at times against the Foresters.
Still, the teams went into the fourth quarter tied at 29 after Forest Park freshman guard NaJae Malik-El hit a 16-footer, grabbed a steal and fed freshman guard McKenzie Fitzgerald for a layup.
The Cougars turned the momentum immediately to start the fourth quarter with a 7-2 run. They took a 36-31 lead on 6-foot-5 senior center Hawa Doumbouya’s layup after a Forest Park turnover.
The Foresters (10-2) pulled within 36-33 on free throws from Malik-El and Chaniya Taylor, but Mount Carmel senior Anylah Davis sealed the win with six straight free throws to give the Cougars a 40-33 lead with 19.6 seconds left.
Doubouya grabbed 11 of her 16 rebounds in the quarter and scored four of her nine points. Davis led the Cougars with 11 points.
The Foresters, one of the top two teams in Baltimore City, hit their final two shots — a 3-pointer from Aliyah Carroll and a falling-down put back by Taylor, but the rally came a bit too late.
Foresters coach Jermaine Dunn, said his team is still growing up.
“Our youth showed today, freshman backcourt,” Dunn said. “We haven’t had a game in a week. We were rusty, missed a lot of free throws, a lot of easy layups. They made their free throws and we missed ours. They made their easy shots. I think we did do a pretty good job contesting Hawa.”
The Cougars had the more veteran team and Long praised the play of seniors Davis, Doumbouya and forward Dania Madden who added six points.
For Long, whose team moved up to the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference this season after winning the B1 Conference title a year ago, playing good teams, public and private, has been the reason his team has risen from a C Conference champion to a middle-of-the-pack A Conference team. They lost four games this season to Top 4 teams and three to strong out-of-town opponents.
He aims to keep rising and playing well in a showcase like the Public vs Private Challenge can only help.
“We played the toughest out-of-schedule competition we could find,” Long said of his team’s rise. “That does two things. It allows the young kids on the roster to grow up and it attracts other kids who see that you’re playing good competition and that allows you to get to that next level. St. Frances and McDonogh can’t take everybody… We were forced out of the B Conference but, trust me, we didn’t go kicking and screaming. We wanted to go to the A, so now our schedule is even tougher, because I have to schedule other tough teams and play really a monster schedule and a monster schedule only creates monster basketball players.”
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE CHALLENGE
NO. 7 MOUNT CARMEL 42, NO. 10 FOREST PARK 38
Forest Park 6 11 12 9 — 38
Mount Carmel 9 12 8 13 — 42
Forest Park — Allyah Carroll 12, NaJae Malik-El 10, Shakira Mitchell 2, Mckenzie Fitzgerald 5, Chaniya Taylor 9. Totals: 13 9-18 38.
Mount Carmel — Hawa Doumbouya 9, Shayla Garnett 4, Anylah Davis 11, Makayla Friend 2, Victoria Nkongolo 2, Mya Blackshear 3, Dania Madden 6. Totals: 15 10-15 42.