Oakland Mills’ stranglehold on the rest of Howard County got just a little stronger Wednesday.
Behind a huge second quarter, kick-started by Nekhi Bradley (14 points) and Dajuan Dent (12 points, 11 rebounds), the Scorpions put River Hill in a hole too deep to dig out of on the way to a 62-52 victory on the road.
With the win, Oakland Mills (14-0 county, 17-0 overall) stays undefeated and opens up a two-game lead over second-place River Hill (12-2, 14-3) in the race for this year’s county title.
“We talked about how this was the county championship … it was there for the taking,” Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. “For us, 16-0 doesn’t mean anything unless we were 17-0 after tonight. The boys were very serious and very hungry.”
The Scorpions ended up putting four guys in double figures scoring, with Marvin Williams (13 points) and Lavon Long (11) joining Bradley and Dent. Courtesy of its balanced attack and pressure defense, Oakland Mills had an answer for every Hawks’ run.
River Hill, which got 17 points and 9 rebounds from senior Walt Moody, never got closer than five points in the second half and saw its 12-game winning streak snapped.
“They thrive on live turnovers and run outs and that’s what killed us in the first half,” River Hill coach Matt Graves said. “We made a run at them in that third quarter, kept it manageable, but couldn’t string together enough good possessions to get over that hump. That’s a good team and Jon deserves a lot of credit for what he’s doing with those guys.”
All evening, Oakland Mills played like a team on a mission. Even though the Scorpions had won the first meeting between the two teams by double digits, they weren’t taking anything for granted.
“We won that first game, but now we had a point to prove that we’re the No. 1 team,” Dent said.
Oakland Mills scored the game’s first five points, holding River Hill scoreless for the opening four minutes. By the end of the quarter, the Hawks had settled in but still trailed 11-7.
It was in the second quarter that the Scorpions really opened things up. After Moody hit two foul shots to get the Hawks back within two, 11-9, Oakland Mills proceeded to reel off a 19-4 spurt that created a 17-point advantage.
A pair of 3-pointers by River Hill freshman Mike Heitzmann right before halftime halted the momentum a little bit, but the Scorpions still had themselves a 30-19 lead.
“The kids were a little dejected at halftime, giving up those back-to-back threes, but I walked into that locker room thrilled,” Browne said. “We were playing our game, being patient on offense … that was probably one of our better halves of the season.”
River Hill kept fighting, however. Moody and Charlie Thomas (12 points) combined to score all of the Hawks points in the third quarter, getting the home team as close as five points, 37-32, with 2:34 left in the period.
After another Oakland Mills push upped the lead to double digits early in the fourth quarter, River Hill’s Gary Sandler hit a 3-pointer to close back with seven, 48-41.
“I’m proud of my kids. They played hard,” Graves said. “They never gave up even though that lead kept going up to double digits. We made them earn it.”
Oakland Mills simply never waivered from its game plan. Following Sandler’s basket, the Scorpions went right back to their full-court pressure defense and put together an 8-0 run to essentially seal the game.
“Coach talks to us and tells us that we have to keep on pushing the ball … don’t play their game. We have to play our game and that’s what we did,” Dent said.
Oakland Mills 62, River Hill 52
OM (14-0, 17-0): Bradley 14, Williams 13, Dent 12, Long 11, Willis 7, Reyna 5.