Story by Kevin Dunleavy, Herald-Mail Media Staff Writer
Photo by Wornden Ly
Hagerstown, Md.—February has brought renewal to the Hagerstown Community College basketball team — a four-game winning streak, including signature victories over a pair of perennial powers.
First the Hawks snapped the eight-game winning streak of Potomac (W.Va.) State. Then they ended an 18-game streak of Harcum (Pa.) College.
Saturday brought perhaps the toughest test for revitalized HCC as it faced Cecil College, undefeated in the Maryland JUCO and ranked No. 12 in the nation.
For a half, HCC appeared poised to slay another giant. But Cecil guards O'Dell Dickerson and Jacob Falko wouldn't let it happen.
With Dickerson scoring 29 points and Falko adding 27, Cecil beat back the challenge, pulling away in the second half of a 93-80 victory.
"It seemed like we lost our goal as a team to play together, stay together and stick with the game plan," said the 6-foot-7 Tate, who scored all but two of his points in the first half. "Cecil, ranked in Division II. It's a good, quality loss, but I think we'll learn and grow from this."
Cecil (21-5, 11-0), which reached the NJCAA Division II national semifinals last year and entered Saturday on a 16-game winning streak, took control of the game at the start of the second half, going on a 17-2 run.
"When we went in at halftime we told them, we've got to cut the dribble penetration down. That's where they hurt us the most," said Cecil coach Ed Durham. "Second half, we forced them to take tougher shots and we contained Tate. He had a great first half."
Despite seeing their streak end, there have been plenty of positives lately for the Hawks (11-14, 3-7).
"We had a good four-game run," said HCC coach Bernard Hopkins. "The big difference has been getting guys back healthy. At one point we had just five guys. That's tough. Now we got nine guys. That's been the key, just putting more bodies out there, keeping guys fresh."
With Tate finding room to operate on the baseline, scoring eight of his points in the first nine minutes, HCC grabbed its biggest lead, 23-15.
But then Dickerson happened. The 6-foot-4 freshman from Mt. Hebron showed his versatility. On consecutive possessions, he hit from beyond the arc, muscled for a putback and scored on a mid-range jumper.
Tate answered with back-to-back baskets as the Hawks regained a seven-point lead. But Dickerson did it again — scoring from three different distances in a span of four possessions and from there it remained close for the rest of the half.
"He was the difference iin the first half. Without him, we're probably down 15 or 20," Durham said. "He's really in a good rhythm."
While Dickerson's performance might have been a surprise — he entered with a 9.6 points-per-game average — Falko's was not. The 6-2 sophomore leads Cecil with a 23.0 ppg average.
Cecil's 17-2 run to begin the second half was a group effort. Dickerson started it with a 3-pointer and closed it with an alley-oop finish. But in between, the Seahawks other starters — Justin Cohen (12 points), Diere Hodges (eight points) and Julius Cobb (eight points) — each scored a pair of baskets.
The run gave Cecil a 63-47 lead. From there, the Hawks never got the deficit back into single digits. Over the last eight minutes, Falko scored 12 of his points.
"Just a lack of energy in the second half," Hopkins said. "We missed a lot of easy buckets in the first half, five six shots around the basket. That's 10-12 points. But that's a real strong team. They haven't lost a game since November for a reason."