When asked whether an undefeated season is now a goal, City College boys basketball Omarr Smith referred to a discussion he had with his team recently.
“I asked them what happens if you miss a step running up or down the steps, and they said you might stumble or fall,” said Smith. “I said exactly. Everybody on the schedule is worthy of your best, you can’t skip steps where we’re trying to go.”
The fourth-ranked Knights arguably took their first major step towards perfection Thursday, outlasting No. 6 Edmondson, 78-73, in a Baltimore City match in North Baltimore. Senior guard Kwon Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points for City, and Cam Horton added 20 points and 11 rebounds.
In a spirited free-flowing contest, unlike the low-scoring defensive struggles that’s been the trademark in the area’s toughest public league the last several seasons, City made just enough plays in the final stages to improve to 14-0.
It’s the Knights’ best start since their 27-0 Baltimore City and Class 3A state championship run in 2013-14.
After steamrolling through the first 13 games this season, City was pushed for four quarters Thursday.
“We can handle a little bit of pressure, a bit of adversity,” said Smith. “What I liked was some guys in each other’s face…'do what you’re supposed to do.’ We need somebody to be an alpha and step up and hold each other accountable.”
“We haven’t played competition to this level,” said Johnson. “Today, it was tough, but we came out with the win. We deserved it. We played til the very end.”
After surging out to a 10-point advantage to start the second half, City led 74-71, with 1:12 remaining in regulation after Smith used two timeouts to quell Edmondson’s ball pressure. Trent Egbiremolen missed a jumper with the 30-second shot clock winding down.
Edmondson (8-4) got the miss under the basket, but Egbiremolen quickly swiped the ball away and passed to a streaking Johnson for a layup, pushing the Knights’ lead to 76-71 with 56 seconds left. Horton had a blocked shot and Johnson and Daniel Parsons each hit a free throw to finally put away the Red Storm.
Parsons, a senior, had 14 points and five rebounds as all five City starters scored in double figures. Senior point guard Kyree Smith finished with 11 points, six assists and three steals, and Egbiremolen posted 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“It’s all about accountability,” said Horton. “Tougher competition, you’re not always going to have the same results. If we got one of our guys slipping, we knew we got to push him to get to that level.”
The Knights and Red Storm were at an elite level Thursday in a potential city title game preview. Both consistently shot well from the perimeter in the opening half, combining for 11 3-pointers, capped by Johnson’s trifecta right before the buzzer, giving City a 42-38 advantage.
The Knights defended more tightly to start the second half as Johnson’s steal led to a Smith basket, giving the hosts their largest advantage, 51-40, with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter. Horton’s follow-up had City up 63-55 early in the fourth, but Edmondson kept fighting back.
The Red Storm closed to within 72-69 after a basket from Marcus Jackson with 3:19 left to play. City turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, but Edmondson wasn’t able to capitalized as Parson converted two free throws for a 74-69 Knight lead with 1:45 left.
Josiah Brown answered for Edmondson with a basket and was fouled with 1:36 left, but missed the free throw for the 3-point play. The Red Storm forced City into timeouts at 1:21 and 1:12, the latter with seven seconds left on the shot clock.
Egbiremolen missed from about 15-feet off the baseline as the shot clock expired. The sophomore guard quickly collapsed on the Edmondson defender with the basketball, snatched it away, and gave it to Johnson for the score.
“Effort plays, we worked on those kinds of plays every day in practice,” said Johnson, who scored six points in the final quarter. “You need effort every single play and it got the job done today.”
Junior Kyrie Sherrod led Edmondson with 20 points, including six 3-pointers, and sophomore point guard D.J. Dantzler added 19 points, four assists and three steals. Jackson, a 6-foot-8 sophomore ,finished with 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Red Storm coach Darnell Dantzler was encouraged by his young and steadily improving squad’s effort Thursday.
“Every big shot City hit, we came back…we didn’t get down on each other and kept playing. That’s maturity,” said Dantzler. “We knew we were coming into a hostile environment against an undefeated team. I’m disappointed we lost, but the kids played hard.”
The Red Storm and City could wind it back next month for the city title. Edmondson is currently tied with No. 14 Poly (teams will meet Jan. 27) for first in Division A while City is tied for first in Division B with reigning champ Lake Clifton (teams will meet Feb. 14).
“We expected everybody to have a target for us,” said Johnson. “We’re willing to perform every night to show everybody this is our year.”
NO. 4 CITY 78, NO. 6 EDMONDSON 73
Edmondson - Sherrod 20, Dantzler 19, Jackson 15, Davis 8, Green 8, Brown 3. Totals 28 8-12 73.
City - Johnson 23, Horton 20, Parsons 14, Smith 11, Egbiremolen 10. Totals 29 11-16 78.
Edmondson 20 18 15 20 - 73
City 21 21 17 19 - 78