Running a hand through his hair, Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne shook his head and smiled.
On its way to a perfect 13-0 record this winter the Scorpions have withstood their share of tests, including four victories by five points or less. But as far as gut-check wins go, Friday night’s 74-70 overtime victory over Long Reach ranks right up there at the top of the list.
Oakland Mills (11-0, 13-0) faced a double-digit first half deficit and played the majority of the final 20 minutes without its leading scorer Lavon Long (13 points), yet still found a way to stay undefeated thanks to a balanced scoring effort that saw five guys score in double figures.
“It’s extremely stressful … I’m absolutely exhausted right now, but it’s fun coaching this group,” Browne said. “It’s guys making plays, giving that extra effort and finding a way to win. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Nekhi Bradley led Oakland Mills with 17 points, including six straight free throws in the final minute of overtime to help seal the win. Those heroics late helped stave off a career night by Long Reach (5-5, 7-6) senior Brian Green (31 points, 11 rebounds) and an overall inspired effort by the host Lightning in front of a packed gym.
“I thought our kids played as hard as they possibly could, not as smart as we could have been down the stretch, but the game plan was right there,” Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. said. “Give credit to (Oakland Mills), they hit some big shots and there’s a reason they’ve won 12 or 13 in a row now.”
Long Reach came out fired up, taking a 12-7 advantage after the first quarter and then opening up an 11-point lead, 20-9, following a pair of foul shots by Alex Neal (11 points) with 5:52 left in the second quarter.
But with its back against the wall, an Oakland Mills team playing without 3-point specialist Daivon Tapscott (broken foot) dug down and found an answer. Long hit a three to start the rally and then Bradley followed with two straight lay-ups in transition.
Following Long’s third 3-pointer of the quarter, with 1:25 left before the half, Oakland Mills had itself back within two points at 28-26.
“We lost our top 3-point shooter, so I felt like I needed to take his place and knock them down,” Long said. “If we were going to make a comeback it had to start with making open jumpers.”
It was that ability to knock down jump shots that helped Oakland Mills battle back from another potential knockout punch by Long Reach early in the third quarter. The Lightning put together a 9-0 spurt to go ahead 40-31, capped by a 3-point play by Green, before Oakland Mills sank three straight shots from beyond the arc to climb right back into a one-possession game.
Oakland Mills ended up hitting nine threes on the night, including six in the second half.
“We had them on the ropes a couple times, but every time they seemed to hit a few threes that got them right back in it,” Moraz said. “They are a resilient team and we kept telling them they aren’t going to go down until that final horn blows.”
Long Reach continually showed some resiliency of its own, allowing Oakland Mills to tie the game several times but never surrendering the lead until late in the fourth quarter. A lay-up by Deshawn Willis (12 points) with 3:47 left in regulation put the Scorpions ahead for the first time all evening.
Just 16 seconds later, though, Long fouled out to shift the momentum right back to Long Reach. The two teams traded baskets down the stretch, eventually leading to a 58-58 tie at the end of the fourth quarter.
The extra session, however, belonged to Oakland Mills. The Scorpions scored eight straight points to open overtime, jump started by a jumper by Joe Zayatz (10 points), and Long Reach never got closer than three the rest of the way despite Green scoring 10 points in the period.
In addition to the production from its starters, the Scorpions also got huge efforts from Daniel Kiely (10 points) and Kyle Madden-Stricker (5) off the bench in the second half. Kiely, a freshman playing his first varsity game, hit two big threes in the fourth quarter while Long was on the bench.
“This team has a lot to it — a lot of different pieces to the puzzle,” Long said. “If one person falls, there’s someone else there to pick them up and step up. Everyone does what they need to do so that we can win.”
Oakland Mills 74, Long Reach 70 OT
OM (11-0, 13-0): Bradley 17, Long 13, Willis 12, Kiely 10, Zayatz 10, Dent 7, Madden-Stricker 5.