By Mario Diaz and Robert Eriksen
Hagerstown, Md. – Frederick won its fifth game in row, defeating Harford this evening 91-68 to earn a spot in the Maryland Juco Men's Basketball Tournament championship game.
The victory avenges the Cougars loss to the Fighting Owls two years ago in the tournament.
Frederick's Corey Bennett led all scorers with 27 points on 9-14 shooting and finished with 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
Henry Okoye, David Garey and Ben Meredith each added 13 points and combined for 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
The teams came into the game evenly matched, but Frederick's intensity outweighed that of Harford.
There was a lot of physical play inside early, as both defenses contested shots well.
Frederick staked the game's first meaning full run with a 6-0 stretch midway through the first half. However, Harford stayed tough and took the lead 17-16 with 9:37 until halftime.
The first half featured nine lead changes.
After going back and forth for four minutes, Frederick used a 10-2 run to end the first half and take a 35-29 lead into the break.
"We just didn't want to have a repeat of yesterday against another quality basketball team, well coached with nice talent," said Frederick head coach Emonte Hill. "We just wanted to come out [of halftime] and stay mentally locked in to what we wanted to do defensively and create a little bit more energy out of the break."
Two turnovers and two missed layups over the last 1:42 of the half hurt Harford's chances to cut into Frederick's lead.
Frederick opened the second half with exceptional defense, forcing Harford to take off balanced and forced shots.
Juwan Burnett capped off a Frederick 13-2 run with a layup at 15:11 to increase the Frederick lead to 48-31.
Garey displayed terrific vision on back-to-back possessions, finding Dwayne Garner underneath for two open layups improving Fredericks lead to 56-42 with just under 11 minutes to play.
Frederick continued its tough defense and converted efficiently in transition to increase its lead to 18 at 65-47.
"Yesterday I thought we came out flat and [Allegany] jumped on us," Hill said. "If Harford was going to beat us, they would have to come out and beat us. We weren't going to come out as flat as we were yesterday."
Barnett hit a long two-pointer with 6:29 remaining to give Frederick a 72-54 advantage.
Harford struggled to rebound defensively and it limited their scoring opportunities
Conversely, Frederick was able to grab two offensive rebounds with five minutes left and began shooting free throws.
Barnett hit his second three of the night with 3:53 remaining to give Frederick a 79-58 lead.
Harford was getting to the line successfully (32 free throw attempts) but converted just 18 for 56.3%.
Frederick scored eight of the game's last 12 points to close out the victory.
Reigning Maryland Juco Men's Basketball Athlete of the Month Jaedon Willis led Harford with 14 points on 3-11 and 6-7 from the free throw line.
Kevin Perry was second with 12 points and Devin Smith had 10.
"Our defense was locked in from the jump and as we went today we got stronger. We try to focus on us, and control what we can control and if our defense is at that level, we're a tough team."
Frederick will play the winner of Baltimore City/Cecil tomorrow for the Maryland Juco men's championship. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.