ROCKVILLE – Seven just might be Sherwood High School shooting guard Stephen Billig’s lucky number.
After all, when Billig and the Warriors faced off against Clarksburg High School in the Montgomery County Recreational Department summer basketball league championship game on July 25 at Magruder High School, Billig hit pay dirt from far behind the arc on seven different occasions.
The sight of Billig, poised and in the zone, striking down 3-pointer after 3-pointer, is one visual the Coyotes will not forget. In fact, it was Billig who helped eliminate Clarksburg’s second-half lead to help Sherwood earn the 74-67 championship victory.
“Any time he’s open, he has the green light,” said Sherwood Head Coach Tom Sheahin. “He can shoot five, six feet behind the 3-point line, so it makes it tough.”
Clarksburg came into the game as the No. 1 seed and boasted just one summer league loss. Additionally, the Coyotes held an eight-point win over Sherwood, the No. 2 seed, from earlier in the season.
Both teams exhibited a high-intensity level befitting a championship game, and the players battled for every open shot and successful bucket.
The first half featured three ties and several fouls as players from both teams muscled their way into the paint. Clarksburg senior guard Yuri Covington, who finished with a team-high 21 points, displayed the fancy footwork in his arsenal as he danced past the Sherwood defense for a layup.
Covington even attempted a dunk in the first half, but Sherwood’s six-foot-four forward Nate Lacey denied his opponent at the rim for an exciting play, which brought fans of both teams to their feet.
The Coyotes kept the game close before enduring an offensive lull and Sherwood took advantage of the scoring drought. The Warriors won the defensive rebound battle and also delivered at the free-throw line; 14 of Sherwood’s first half points came courtesy of the free throws.
Meanwhile, Billig, Lacey and senior guard Bryan Major continued to tack on the points to send the Warriors to halftime with a 13-point lead.
Summer league halftime breaks are only three minutes long, as opposed to the 10- or 15-minute intermissions that occur during the regular season. However, three minutes were long enough for Covington to emerge rejuvenated.
The senior burst onto the court with an unmatched level of energy, and the Coyotes opened the second half with an 8-1 run; six of those points belonged to Covington. Junior guard Nunu Taylor helped lead the charge with eight second-half points. Covington landed a 3-pointer and then a jumper to erase Sherwood’s lead and tie the game twice.
However, the Warriors wouldn’t give up the lead. Billig hit another pair of treys to break the stalemate. Sherwood forward Nick Wilson followed up his two-point first-half performance with eight points late in the second half. Suddenly, Clarksburg’s tie game was a distant memory as the Warriors led by 14.
“I think Sherwood did a great job of being hungrier in stretches. I think there were a couple of stretches where we pulled it back to tie and we lost our heads a little bit,” said Clarksburg Head Coach Steve Watson. “We fought all the way back in the second half and showed what we can do, but we just have to tighten up on stuff.”
The Coyotes tried to close the gap, but Sherwood’s seven points at the free throw line came back to haunt Clarksburg in the end.
After the game, the Warriors received T-shirts to commemorate their summer season and championship win. Billig appeared unaware of just how many 3-point buckets he had earned.
“Really?” he asked when he learned about his seven big baskets. “I try to think about the next shot, not the one before that. Nate (Lacey) kept driving and trying to take it out, so I just kept shooting. Every time I was open, I tried to shoot it.”
“That’s part of our game plan, to spread the floor, drive and have their man help,” said Sheahin. “If they don’t help, we just continue taking it to the basket. They have to pick their poison, whether they want to leave open threes or give us layups.”
Despite the championship loss, Watson was pleased with his team’s overall performance throughout the summer league.
“Summer’s not about a ton of adjustments; it’s about getting good at little things. I think that is what has carried us. We’ve played 22 games this summer, and we’ve lost two,” said Watson.
“We’re not looking at this like, ‘let’s reinvent things.’ We’re pretty good at what we’re doing; let’s be a little bit better.”