It isn't the prettiest jump shot ever constructed, but Mastery North junior forward Lakeem McAliley had it going Tuesday as the Pumas held off visiting Simon Gratz, 66-54, in second-round action in the Public League playoffs.
At 6-foot-3, McAliley usually does most of his damage in the paint, but the big fella was on a roll against the Bulldogs.
With the win, Mastery North will face Sankofa, which beat Overbrook, 64-52, also on Tuesday.
"I think it was just the emotion [of the game]," he said with a smile. "I don't usually shoot threes, but I was open and I felt like I had the hot hand.
"I don't know," he added with a shrug, "I was just feeling it today."
The southpaw finished 3 of 3 from deep to go with his game-high 18 points.
His quick flick of a three-pointer from the left corner gave the slow-starting Pumas a 12-11 lead after the first frame.
In previous games this season, McAliley had fired a few errant threes, but coach Terrence "Nip" Cook, saw his big man working hard in practice and had no problem with more McAliley missiles.
"He has an awkward form, but if he brings the ball up a little higher he can make those shots and that's something we've been working on," Cook said. "Once I saw him rolling and he was keeping the ball higher, I had no arguments with him shooting."
There is no architect to credit for McAliley's form, but his mother Lydia — who played at Olney and later at the University of Maryland from 1979 to 1983 — helped.
Lydia — whose jumper is much prettier, according to her son — also played for the Columbus Links of the Women's American Basketball Association before the league folded in 1984.
On Tuesday, Lakeem found open shots within the flow of his team's offense, which sputtered early.
"I felt like I was going to do well today because I was mentally focused and physically focused," he said. "I believed in myself and I took the shots."
Gratz took an early six-point lead in the first quarter before the Pumas pounced.
The Bulldogs scored the first points of the second quarter, but McAliley followed with another bomb that gave the Pumas (17-5) a lead they would never relinquish.
"As long as it goes in," he said, "I ain't really worrying about it, but I know I have to improve it when I go to college."
The triples were needed, too, because the Pumas' top offensive threat, Jamir Reed, wasn't aggressive early.
Reed, who finished with 17 points, had just five in the first half but came alive in the third quarter.
Rodney Phillips added 15 points, while Harold Daily added nine more and a few hustle plays. Tahj Campbell also added four blocked shots.
Gratz (15-9) got within four points midway through the fourth after Yassir Stover hit back-to-back threes, but the Bulldogs would get no closer.
Stover finished with a team-high 13 points. Jaron Flowers added 12.
Mastery North — 12 16 17 21 – 66
Gratz — 11 9 17 17 – 54
MN: Lakeem McAliley 18, Jamir Reed 17, Rodney Phillips 15, Harold Daily 9, Tahj Campbell 2, Sam Nyankun 2, Kareem Hicks 3.