ROCKVILLE – Friday night Richard Montgomery junior Daniel Alexander faced the task of guarding the county’s leading scorer, Gaithersburg’s Anthony Tarke.
Tarke, listed at 6-foot-5, almost towers over 6-foot Alexander. Alexander said the size mismatch might faze some players, but not him – he won’t back down from anybody.
His determination propelled Alexander to play one of his best games of the season and help his Rockets (20-1, 10-0) pull off a 76-75 home win over the red-hot Trojans (16-5, 7-3).
“I knew (Tarke) was a big-time player but I’m not scared, I’d guard LeBron,” said Alexander, who finished with an impressive stat line of 14 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, three steals and three assists.
Rockets co-captain and big man Nick Jackson joined Alexander in the victory effort, finishing the night with a team-high 22 points, including a clutch 3-pointer that put R.M. ahead 76-73 with just minutes to spare.
The Rockets led from tip-off in a high-octane offensive game, but Gaithersburg mounted a run late in the third quarter and into the final period of the game. Down 61-52 the Trojans would score 13 unanswered points, including a huge slam dunk and-one by Tarke, to go up 65-61 before Rockets coach David Breslaw called for a timeout.
Breslaw said he does not usually like to call timeouts in those situations because he has a mature group, but in that instance his team just needed to regroup and understand the situation.
“Really I didn’t have to say much at all, just let them take a second to look at what’s going on and these guys are really mature enough to really react to that,” Breslaw said.
The timeout proved to be exactly what the Rockets needed. Alexander knocked down a two-pointer right out of the timeout. Moments later, after two Jackson free throws brought the game within two, Alexander threw in a three-point shot from half-court in an attempt to pass the ball to Jackson standing underneath the hoop.
“Usually (on that play) I just lob it to Nick and I was just looking at (the ball) like ‘is this going to go out-of-bounds?’ and then it went in and I was like… thank god, thank god,” Alexander said.
But Gaithersburg recaptured the lead immediately after on a Geron Brathwaite layup followed by a Tarke two-pointer.
Down three, Alexander came up big, knocking down a three from the top of the arc with a little more than two minutes to go.
“I was just thinking about the seniors and I didn’t want to lose that game for them,” Alexander said.
Minutes later it Jackson put the Rockets ahead by three as he calmly knocked down the go-ahead triple.
Jackson, who has been no stranger to knocking down big shots this season, said he never hesitated on taking the shot.
“I’m real confident. Our coaches believe in our abilities to take big shots in big moments so when I caught the ball I knew it would be a disappointment if I didn’t take the shot. So I took it, it felt good, it looked good and it went in,” Jackson said.
With 1.3 seconds left in the game Tarke got fouled on a controversial jump shot that looked like it could have been a three-point or two-point shot depending on your vantage point.
Gaithersburg coach Tom Sheahin said he did not see the play, but trusted the referees made the right call.
Alexander said he saw Tarke behind the line.
“I mean I’m not going to lie he was behind the line, that should have been three shots,” Alexander said. “He traveled, but he was behind the line, I was looking and his tippy-toes were behind the line.”
In the end Tarke missed his second free throw and Gaithersburg missed the put back as time expired, sealing the win for the Rockets.
Despite the loss, Sheahin said he felt proud of his kids, calling the matchup a great high school game between two great programs as well as a great learning experience for playoffs.
“It was a good test, a very good test and the atmosphere was great and that’s the way it’s going to be in playoffs and that’s what we learned from it,” Sheahin said.
Breslaw also said Friday proved to be a good test for his team in what might be a preview of the region championships.
“We were glad we had that competition finally, that we could actually test them so we can get ready for playoffs,” Breslaw said.