HAGERSTOWN — Henry Okoye thought all of his hard work in helping Frederick Community College’s men’s basketball team take the lead over Allegany College of Maryland on Friday was all going to go to waste with the game winding down.
With 20 seconds left in overtime, and the Cougars clinging to a one-point lead, Okoye missed two foul shots. The Trojans got the rebound, called a timeout and then promptly turned the ball over with 11 seconds to go in the game.
The Cougars got the ball to Okoye on the inbounds pass, and he was fouled. Okoye wasn’t going to blow this opportunity.
The 6-foot-7 freshman forward-center calmly sank two free throws with nine seconds left on the clock. FCC then held on over the final seconds, escaping with a 108-105 win over Allegany in the opening round of the Maryland JuCo Tournament at Hagerstown Community College.
“I can’t describe how I feel right now,” a relieved Okoye said. “But it’s very exciting to be a part of this team.”
The win sends FCC (17-8) into Saturday’s semifinal round against Harford CC. That winner plays in Sunday’s championship at 4 p.m.
In a state JuCo women’s semifinal Saturday, the Cougars also play Harford at 6 p.m.
Okoye has been working to improve his skills all season, seeking to make a big impact with the team. On Friday, he showed just how far he’s progressed.
Okoye finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. His eight points in overtime were the last eight points of the game for the Cougars.
Both teams blew leads of 10 points or greater on Friday. FCC led at the half, 49-37. The Trojans regained the lead five minutes into the second half, then opened up a 76-66 lead with 8:40 to go in regulation.
The Cougars had a chance to win the game in regulation. A jump shot by Dwayne Garner with 13 seconds left on the clock gave FCC a 95-92 lead.
Allegany tied the score at 95 on a 3-pointer by DeMarcus Demonia with nine seconds to go. The Trojans blew a chance to win the game in regulation when Savion Word missed a layup at the two-second mark.
FCC’s David Garey tried a long 3-point shot at the buzzer to try and win the game but missed, sending the contest into overtime.
The Cougars and Trojans traded leads during the first two minutes of overtime. With 2:34 to go in the game and the score tied at 100, Garner gave FCC a 102-100 lead on a driving layup. The Cougars led by as many as four before Allegany made one last run at FCC.
“We did a lot of talking out on the floor,” Okoye said. “We wanted to make sure we were looking for the open shots.
The fact Allegany came back after a large deficit didn’t surprise FCC coach Emonte Hill.
“They’ve got too much talent on that team not to come back,” he said. “We knew they were going to come back. Again, it all comes down to mental toughness. We hung in there.”
Over the past two weeks, the Cougars have showed that kind of toughness both on and off the floor.
FCC had to forfeit five wins due to ineligible players, which almost cost them a berth in the state tournament. The Cougars dropped to ninth in the state JuCo standings, but an 88-61 win over Montgomery College on Wednesday, Feb. 6, earned FCC the seventh spot.
“This team is special,” Hill said of FCC’s ability to handle and overcome adversity, adding the Cougars have come out of this situation even stronger, more determined.
“They didn’t hang their heads and give up,” he said. “They jumped right back in there and played harder.”
Garner had 26 points for FCC. Corey Barnett had 19 points with seven rebounds. Ben Meredith had 16 points. Garey had 15 points with five assists. Chris Knight had 12 points with eight rebounds.