Capital Classic action comes to Fort Meade
Llellewyn Smalley flies through three Fort Drum defenders for a layup during Sunday's matchup. Smalley's 75 points over the three games in pool play helped the Patriots move on to the finals bracket, where they fell short to Fort Bragg to

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - The Fort Meade Patriots have a touch for sinking shots. The team's offensive skills help players boast a 9-1 record in the Washington Area Military Athletic Conference.
This weekend, the Patriots brought their magic to Murphy Field House for the annual Capital Classic tournament.

Fort Meade played host to the large tournament, which pitted 16 teams from military installations against each other. The tournament spanned four different installations through the Washington area.

Murphy Field House was the location of the D pool, with games played Saturday and Sunday.

Pool play for the Patriots began Saturday at 9 a.m. as the team came out on top with a 95-87 victory over the 3rd Military Information Support Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C.

The lead changed four times in the first half of the tightly played game. Fort Meade fell behind early and didn't take the lead until 14:35, when it pulled ahead 12-11. The seesaw of leads continued until 7:45 in the first half, when the Patriots took a 29-27 lead and never looked back.

Fort Meade used an extremely balanced offensive scheme during the first half to put up 49 points. Players were able to work around the perimeter and hit shots from outside the arch, but were also able to drive to the hoop when needed. Llewellyn Smalley led the offensive attack as he ran over Fort Bragg defenders to rack up 21 points in the half.

In the second half, Fort Bragg waited for Fort Meade to falter. Fort Bragg fought back, slowly, to come within five points of the Patriots by the middle of the second half.

"We let them come back," Fort Meade's Rick Herrera said.

Outscored by 47-46, Meade was able to hang on to the lead and pull out a first win of the tournament behind Smalley's 34-point game and Herrera's 24 points.

"That was a mental character win. That's a good team down there from Fort Bragg," Patriots coach Ronnie Cunningham said.

Meade faced off against Dover Air Force Base in its second game of the day. In a 107-49 blowout, the Patriots came out fast and dominated both ends of the court.

Following Herrera's three-pointer a few seconds into the game, the Patriots took a lead that wouldn't be surrendered throughout the entire game. Dover's short-handed bench was unable to do anything to slow down the Patriots' offense.

The Patriots were able to hit shots from nearly anywhere they pleased. Smalley sunk seven straight from behind the arch -- all within the first 10 minutes of the game. Following his 21-point rampage, Smalley was taken out of the game to rest him for the remainder of the tournament.

Meade put up 64 points in the first half alone. Charlie Ward added to the Patriots' dominance over the struggling Dover team, adding another 22 points throughout the game.

When Cunningham took out most of the starters by the second half, players from the bench continued the strong offensive play and added 43 points.

While the impressive offensive spectacle stole the show, Meade's defense shut down Dover. The team only allowed 29 points in the first half and 20 in the second. The defense forced Dover into a low-post game to try to drive to the hoop as the Patriots took away the three-pointers, mostly due to their height advantage.

Dover's leading scorer, Tyree Neal, put up 15 points -- nine of which came after most of the Meade starters were removed.

Cunningham said the ability to rest some of the starters was very important for the rest of the tournament. To win the championship, the team would be faced with three more games Sunday and Monday.

"It's a lot of experience on this team," he said. "We have people who played in the Capital Classic before and won the championship. We know how to get to the championship game; they just need to stay focused."

With players confident from a sound victory, Cunningham worried his team could lose some of its focus before its next game Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, Cunningham's concerns were legitimate as the Patriots got off to a slow start in Sunday afternoon's matchup against Fort Drum, N.Y.

The Patriots wouldn't snatch a lead until 9:20 left in the first half.

"Sometimes they have a tendency to underestimate a team," Cunningham said. "Sometimes, when you're used to winning and you have a lot of talent, you think you can always turn it on and just run a game."

Fort Drum did what no other team in the tournament had done to this point -- press the Meade offense. Players continually had opponents pressuring them for a mistake as they drove down the court. The offensive style of Fort Drum was very slow. While taking the shot clock down as far as it could, Fort Drum kept the ball out of Fort Meade's capable hands.

The Patriots were able to turn it on after a slow start and fight back. Players ended the first half with a 13-1 run that would give them the lead for the rest of the game.

"We can lull for a while, then all of a sudden drop 10 or 15 points," Cunningham said. "A lot of times that will keep us in the game or cause us to lose a game. But if you score in bunches, it pretty much seals the game."

Smalley put up 20 points, and Charlie Ward added an additional 14 to pull the Patriots to a 69-57 victory to sweep the competition on its home court.

"Home-court advantage is always good for you," Smalley said. "It worked out for us, but now we have to go play in another gym and play a little bit more stiff competition."

The team headed down to Henderson Hall in Virginia for the quarterfinals against New River Marine Corps Air Station.

"We feel pretty confident; we're just trying to get everything at the peak," Smalley said "Now, going to the elimination round, it's win or go home."

In a 95-66 victory over New River, Fort Meade moved on to the semifinals where they fell short to Fort Bragg.

A 75-74 loss sent the Patriots home with a third-place finish. At the tournament's close, Desmond Dias was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Page last updated Sat February 26th, 2011 at 10:11