Having lost a 24-point second half lead and battling to hold off a Calvert Hall team awash in momentum, No. 5 Mount Carmel got a buzzer-beating three-pointer from junior William Miller to stop the Cardinals’ comeback cold, Thursday in Essex, and advance to Sunday’s MIAA A Conference Basketball Championship with a 66-63 semifinal playoff victory.

It will be Mount Carmel’s second trip to the final in three years. The Cougars will face top-seeded Mount St. Joseph (31-3), which advanced with a come-from-behind 54-46 victory over McDonogh (20-10), in Thursday’s other semifinal. The title game will be played at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday at Harford Community College’s APGFCU Arena.

For much of the night the Cougars (25-8) did not appear as if they would need any last minute heroics. With the Cardinals (14-18) struggling with their shooting, the Cougars hit eight three-pointers and built a lead that grew to 24 points late in the third period and they led 56-35 at the start of the fourth quarter.

In the final quarter, however, the Cougars struggled from the free throw line, making just 5-of-16 attempts, opening the door for Calvert Hall. The Cardinals began the final frame with an 11-1 run to pull within 11 with 4 minutes, 57 seconds to play, with senior D’Yante Doughty hitting a pair of threes in the surge.

After a timeout, the comeback continued, with the run swelling to 22-3, bringing the Cardinals within two, at 59-57, with 2:14 remaining.  Down the stretch, junior Xavier Gravette hit two huge threes for the Cardinals, the first giving them their first lead since midway through the first quarter, 60-59, and the second tying the contest, 63-63, with 8.9 seconds to play.

Following Gravette’s tying shot, Christian Evans inbounded the ball for Mount Carmel to junior Jordan Jones, who took it across mid-court on the right side.  With all eyes fixed on Mount Carmel senior star Terry Nolan, Jr., Jones found Miller for an open look from the right corner. Miller caught the ball, rose up and found nothing but net, as he faded back into the Cougar bench, setting off a wild celebration with his teammates and the Mount Carmel student section.

“I just had to let it go. I had to let it go,” said Miller of the winning shot. “My team was counting on me. I knew it was coming to me because my teammate (Nolan) drew their attention. I was just hot the whole game. I let it go.”

Mount Carmel coach Hakim Hibbert gave credit to Jones for creating the final opportunity, as well as Miller for making the clutch shot.

“Jordon Jones did a tremendous job of passing the basketball, getting it to Miller,” said Hibbert. “I knew they were going to be hard on Terry Nolan. Miller got in his sweet spot and he made a great shot.”

Miller hit three three-pointers in the contest and finished with 11 points. Nolan scored a game-high 17 and Jones netted 15 points, including eight in the third quarter to help the Cougars build their lead. Mount Carmel also got nine points from Evans.

“It made me hungry. I couldn’t let the game go,” said Miller of his reaction to losing such a large lead. “We had to win to get to the championship.”

Calvert Hall, which was so efficient offensively in its win over John Carroll in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, struggled with its shooting until the final quarter. The Cardinals led 8-7 in the opening quarter, but began to fall behind on a three-pointer by Miller. The Cougars would go on to score the final 10 points of the first quarter to lead 17-8.

Miller also opened the second quarter with a three-point jumper and the Cougars got three-pointers from Dwight Felton and Evans in the second quarter as they grew their lead to 33-13 with 2:20 to play in the first half. Calvert Hall stopped the bleeding with a 7-2 closing spurt, but still trailed by 15 at the half.

“I’m proud of my guys,” added Hibbert. “They have been working hard since day one, buying in and being a great team. I am really proud of my guys. I am really proud of the way they stepped up.”

Junior Brendan Adams led Calvert Hall with 16 points and Doughty netted 15. Junior Josh Cornish scored nine points, while Gravette and freshman Justin Lewis had eight points each.

Mount Carmel has now beaten Calvert Hall three times this season and they will see each other one more time. The Cardinals will return to Mount Carmel on Thursday, March 2 for an opening round game in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament.

While the Cardinals have already started to look forward to that opportunity, the Cougars have some more pressing business on Sunday, before turning their attention back to the Cardinals and the BCL.

“It’s great. We had a hard season. We fought all year long,” said Miller of his team’s trip to the MIAA final. “It’s great and we’re just hungry for more.”

Hibbert spelled out the formula for topping the Gaels in the final.

“It’s going to take some rest, some hard work and, of course, some Lady Luck.”

CH   8  12  15  28  —  63
MC  17 18  21  10  —  66
Doughty 15, Curtis 7, Adams 16, Lewis 8, Cornish 9, Gravette 8. TOTALS: 21 16-17 63.
Felton 5, Watson 2, Evans 9, Nolan 17, Jones 15, Miller 11, Bush-Williams 2, Thornes 2, Thomas 2. TOTALS: 22 11-15 66.