The Washington, D.C./Baltimore City rivalry is still alive and well. And if proof was needed, then Monday night’s heart stopper between the District’s Gonzaga Eagles and Baltimore’s Patterson Clippers can provide plenty verification. In the first annual Martin Luther King Hoopfest Showcase, the Eagles edged Baltimore standout Aquille Carr and the Clippers 75-73 in front of a sold-out gymnasium at D.C.’s Coolidge High School on Jan. 16. The 8:30 p.m. twilight game was set to showcase a pair of the region’s best junior point guards in Carr, a Seton Hall University recruit, and Gonzaga’s Nate Britt, a future North Carolina Tar Heel. But with Britt sidelined due to a calf injury, it was Gonzaga junior forward Kris Jenkins (26 points and the game winning three pointer) who led the Eagles back from a 17-point deficit to stun Carr (36 points) and the highflying Clippers.

Patterson exploded to a hot start behind Carr’s razzle and dazzle. Between the no-look passes, crossover dribbles and contorted layups, Carr, nicknamed the “Crimestopper” because local crime in Baltimore ceases when he’s playing, was certainly worth the price of admission as the crowd beckoned at his every step. The Clippers led 29-14 after the first quarter and Gonzaga appeared to be in trouble with its best player sitting on the bench in dress clothes. But deficits have been nothing new to the Eagles over the past few weeks. “We’ve been down in three of our last four games by as many 10 to 12 points to start games,” Gonzaga coach Steve Turner admitted. “I told my guys ‘we’ve been here before and we know the routine: chip away at it one possession at a time and don’t get caught up in trying to get all back at once.’”

True to their coach’s words, the Eagles began to “chip away at it.” Jenkins began to abuse defenders in the post and from long range (three 3-point field goals) and Britt’s fill in, backup point guard Tavon Blackmon (13 points), grew tired of watching the Carr show and came alive in the second half. By the time Gonzaga took its first lead of the game after guard Charles Glover’s free throw made it 68-67 with 1:39 left in the final quarter, the Eagles had seized all momentum. Gonzaga stretched the lead to 70-67 with just over a minute left but Carr’s back-to-back scores gave Patterson the lead back at 71-70.

The Clippers held their last lead at 73-72 with seven seconds left with Gonzaga set to inbound. Glover’s top of the key jump shot clanged off the rim but senior Will Rassman (18 points) deflected the ball right to Jenkins, who was stationed perfectly above the three point line. Jenkins quickly caught the ball, fired it and swished it as time expired and the Eagles bench and their student section rushed the court. “When he let it go and shot it, I felt pretty good that it was going down,” Turner said. “When it went through, I was just excited for our team because they gritted that one out and showed a toughness that we know we can resort back to at any time during the rest of this season.”

Gonzaga (15-0, third-ranked team in the District) kept their unblemished record alive while Patterson (8-5, top team in Baltimore) dropped another heartbreaker on what’s been a slow start to the season. Behind Carr, the Clippers finished 41-9 over the past two regular seasons.

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO