Apr. 5—MCHENRY — Garrett posed with their newly acquired hardware after the game Saturday, and Penn Highlands ended up on a poster during it.
With a ferocious put-back slam worthy of SportsCenter's Top 10, the Trojans' Malik Whitaker skied and corralled a brick with one hand, rocking the rim in a single motion over a hapless Terry Owens, plus the foul, just five minutes into the night.
An upstart Penn Highlands was no match for the undefeated, No. 4 junior college team in Division II. Garrett galloped to the Region XX title with a 93-68 trouncing — one highlight at a time.
"We've just got a lot of talent," Garrett head coach Dennis Gibson said. "When we started turning it up we were a lot better team. (Penn Highlands) came to play and did the best they can do and hats off to them. I do not think we played very well to be honest.
"Offensively, we're good enough to play with anyone in the country. We can score, we just don't seem to be motivated defensively yet."
The Lakers (13-0) were dealt a surprise opponent in the Black Bears (2-13), when Penn Highlands delivered a thrilling overtime upset over WVU Potomac State in the semifinal round on Thursday.
The Black Bears had only beaten one other team all year, a 10-point win over Garrett's JV squad.
So, few were stupefied when the Lakers exploded for a 24-5 blitz to go up 50-28 at halftime, and the lead only got larger. With the offensive excellence of D'Monte Brown, who garnered a game-best 31 points, and Whitaker, who was good for 20, Penn Highlands spent most of the night looking for answers defensively.
It never found them.
"The difference was D'Monte on the boards, and Malik started getting on the boards," Gibson said. "They didn't really have any matchups for those guys."
Six different Garrett players united for the team's six 3-pointers.
Brown, the tournament Most Valuable Player, was adept at creating space around the rim with his strength, bullying would-be shot blockers and finishing with his left hand.
Despite being a power guy, Brown was always under control and his court vision was evident — he finished with five assists.
"He's a very unselfish player, he's looking to pass all the time," Gibson said. "I try to tell him, 'There are times you just got to score man.' Because it's opening, and if you over-pass it just screws the whole thing up anyway."
Robel Desta (13) and Cameron Selders (10) also scored in double figures. The pair were mostly silent during the first half, combining for just seven points, but they woke up after halftime to contribute eight each after the break.
Penn Highlands didn't have the speed or athleticism of Garrett, yet the team played with grit. For the first 10 minutes Saturday, the Black Bears were down just 24-18 after a putback and a trey by Jorge Castro — he had 14 points, behind only Kendrick Vaughn's team-high 18.
That's when the Lakers found their footing and used a 19-point run to go up by more than 20.
The lead ballooned to 30 when Brown drilled his only triple of the night with 5:15 left, the final three points of his explosive performance. Gibson then pulled the talented sophomore and emptied the bench.
Some coaches might coast to the finish line with an insurmountable lead. Dennis Gibson is not one of them.
Up 88-58 with 3:25 left in the game, Penn Highlands' Bryce Huss, who tallied 11 points, wasn't picked up in transition defense. As soon as the ball pierced the net after an uncontested lay-in, Gibson called a timeout.
"You just got to keep playing defense," he said. "Unfortunately, this isn't one of my better defensive teams. They're as talented as any of them, but they're not a great defensive team. That's going to hurt us, I'm afraid, down the road."
Garrett will need that attention to detail against stiffer competition in the district championship in New Jersey next week. The spotless squad has the offense to keep up with anyone. Its defense will be the key.
"We either fix it, or we go home next weekend," Gibson said.
Alex Rychwalski is a sportswriter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.