OAK RIDGE NORTH — College Park has been avenged.
After losing to Dekaney in the bi-district playoffs last season, the Cavaliers turned the tables Monday evening with a 67-58 victory over the Wildcats in the Region II-6A bracket at Oak Ridge High School.
College Park (25-3) has now won 18 consecutive games dating back to Dec. 11. The District 13-6A champions are back in the area round for the fifth time in school history and for the first time since 2018.
“The difference between this basketball team and last year is, for one, we have tremendous leadership,” College Park coach Clifton McNeely said. “I loved the two seniors we had last year, but they weren’t quite the leaders that this group was. Second, we’ve got experience. We have a lot of playoff experience, even though it was just one game last year, and we have depth at that. And then, we’re very talented. We’ve got star power, and we’ve got guys that can step up and take over a basketball game.”
The No. 25 state-ranked Cavaliers will play Cypress Ranch (21-5) in the area round later this week. The Mustangs defeated Klein Cain 54-49 on Monday evening to advance. Cypress Ranch was the District 16-6A runner-up and has won six consecutive games.
College Park has an opportunity to advance to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2014 and has only reached the third round on three occasions in program history.
Dekaney (15-11), meanwhile, saw its season end Monday after making its 10th playoff appearance in 11 years. The Wildcats were the fourth-place team out of District 14-6A.
Ty Buckmon scored a game-high 19 points for College Park, and Marvin Dock added 15. Jayden Jackson led Dekaney with 15 points, and Daelyn Williams finished with 12.
Dekaney jumped out to a 6-0 lead after College Park committed two turnovers and missed its first four shots to open the game. The Cavaliers eventually settled into a rhythm, however, and took their first lead of the game at 10-9 on a layup by Dock. College Park ended the period ahead 12-11.
“Dekaney’s athleticism is what concerned us the most — their ability to get to the rim,” McNeely said. “We didn’t think they were a very good outside shooting team, so our job was to clog the paint. … I thought we could have done a little better job of rebounding on both ends of the floor. I thought we missed a lot of opportunities on the offensive end to get putbacks. On the defensive end, there were a few times we stood there and watched instead of boxing out.”
The Cavaliers led by as many as seven points in the second quarter as Buckmon connected on a pair of free throws with 5:06 on the clock. Dekaney slowly closed the gap down the stretch, however, and trailed 25-24 heading to the locker room. The Wildcats finished the period on a 10-4 run.
College Park maintained its lead throughout the third quarter and went ahead by double digits at 45-35 on a 3-pointer from Jackson Mathias with 16 seconds to play. The Cavaliers entered the fourth ahead 45-38.
“We’ve got guys that can come off the bench and contribute for us,” McNeely said. “I thought our bench was the difference tonight. I thought Markel James, what he did off the bench was great, and Jackson Mathias and Logan Maksimowicz, Nate Murphy — all of those guys made a big difference tonight.”
Dekaney continued to hang within striking range throughout the final period and even took the lead briefly at 53-51 with 3:28 remaining. College Park made enough clutch shots and free throws down the stretch to pull ahead and hold on for the victory. The Cavaliers led for the final 2:20 after Indiana State signee Drew Calderon hit a 3 from the right corner.
“Drew was struggling all night long, so that was huge for him,” McNeely said. “Coach (Terence) O'Connor told him during that last timeout, ‘The next one is going to go; the next one is going to go.’ We were going to keep going back to him, and we’ve seen him hit too many big shots. Sure enough, he knocked it down.”