Oakland Mills vs. Atholton boys basketball

Deshawn Willis of Oakland Mills (No. 20) soars towards the basket as he prepares to release a layup during a game against Atholton at Oakland Mills High School. (Brian Krista, Patuxent Publishing / February 14, 2013)

As the crowd gathered around and began snapping pictures, Oakland Mills’ players allowed themselves a moment to take everything in.

After all, with their 58-37 victory over Atholton Thursday that secured a perfect regular season and this year’s county title, the Scorpions had earned the right to celebrate. Sitting at 22-0 the team has already tied the second-best start ever by a county boys’ team — behind just the Oakland Mills team in 2010-11 that started 25-0.

Through the smiles and high-fives, though, there was a sense that, while happy, this was a group far from satisfied.

“This is a very nice title to have, not many teams go undefeated and win the county, so we’re excited,” Oakland Mills senior Lavon Long said. “But still we’re not going to let this be our greatest accomplishment. That big goal is still (getting to the) Comcast (Center).”

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Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne, who watched his undefeated team from two years ago go down to Gwynn Park in the regional finals, echoed the sentiment.

“(Being) 22-0 is great and we’ll enjoy this tonight, but the truth is that doesn’t mean anything tomorrow,” Browne said. “At the end of the day, we’re not cutting nets down tonight … that’s still a couple weeks away. Bigger things are ahead for this group, I really believe that.”

Oakland Mills (19-0, 22-0), as the top seed in the 2A South Region, will certainly be heading into the postseason as a confident group. The team has won six straight games now by double digits.

Getting the lopsided victory over the Raiders in the regular-season finale, however, took shaking off a slow start. Atholton (8-11, 10-12) slowed things down in the first quarter and never trailed over the opening 10 minutes of the game.

Kyle Courtney scored six of his team-high nine points in the first period and Mazi Brickous sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Raiders ahead 13-7.

After a couple traded baskets to start the second, though, Oakland Mills made its move behind its pressure defense.

“They came out with a lot of energy and they were giving us a tough fight, but once we started playing defense we were fine,” said Deshawn Willis, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the second quarter. “We’re we quicker than them and we used that to our advantage.”

The Scorpions forced eight turnovers in the period, turning six directly into lay-ups on the other end. A 10-0 run over a two-minute span gave Oakland Mills its first lead and then the team broke things open with an 8-0 spurt to close the half.

“Our man pressure was tremendous and the guards really got after it,” Browne said. “Our best offense has always been our defense and tonight was no exception.”

Oakland Mills’ 30-20 lead at the half grew to 18 points by the end of the third quarter and got up to as many as 26 points at one point in the fourth. Lavon Long (15 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks), Dajuan Dent (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Mishaud Reyna (10 points) all played major roles in the Scorpions opening things up down the stretch.

While Browne was already turning his focus toward the playoffs after the game, he did take a moment to relish the ride his team is putting together this winter after going just 8-15 a season ago.

“It’s crazy, man. I really never thought we’d be sitting here at 22-0,” he said. “I knew we had a good team, but to beat every opponent we’ve faced so far is ridiculous really. I had no idea we could do that this year.

“All the credit to the kids for that, though. They’ve earned everything they’ve gotten so far … now the real fun begins.”

Oakland Mills 58, Atholton 37

OM (19-0, 22-0): Long 15, Willis 13, Dent 10, Reyna 10, Bradley 4, Madden-Stricker 2, Williams 2, Zayatz 2.

A (8-11, 10-12): Courtney 9, M. Bernetti 8, Casey 4, Perdue 4, Brickous 3, Florenzo 3, Mason 3, Ballmer 2. Mendelsohn 1.