Before heading into the locker room at halftime, the Largo boys basketball coaching staff met briefly to discuss the first half of Tuesday’s Class 2A South regional semifinals game. The Lions led undefeated Oakland Mills by a point at the break.
The coaches agreed that the Scorpions “couldn’t score” on them if they continued to play tough defense.
It didn’t take long for their minds to be changed — only four minutes in fact.
An aggressive Oakland Mills squad came out with a renewed intensity and scored the first 11 points of the third quarter to turn a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead. The Scorpions went ahead by as many as 16 in the second half before holding off a late Lions rally for a 64-58 victory.
“We were mad (at halftime). We were getting what we wanted,” senior forward Dajuan Dent said. “Everybody played hard. I didn’t play too good today but the team did. I’m just happy that we got the win.”
Deshawn Willis paced Oakland Mills (24-0) with a team-high 17 points – including an alley-oop dunk from Nekhi Bradley that blew the roof off a packed gym. Loyola-bound forward Lavon Long added 16 points and 11 boards, while Marvin Williams added 14 points on three 3-pointers.
Sophomore center Abdulai Bundu was a load in the paint for Largo (14-10), scoring a game-high 23 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
The Scorpions will host Calvert, a 77-70 winner over Frederick Douglass-PG, in Thursday’s regional final.
Despite the win, Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne wasn’t thrilled with how his team finished the game. Instead of holding the ball and forcing the Lions to foul in the closing minutes, Oakland Mills continued to keep its foot on the pedal.
“I’m not happy at all,” Browne said. “We missed too many front-ends and we were shooting threes when all we had to do was work the clock and make free throws. We just didn’t finish our game well.”
Willis’ floater in the lane gave Oakland Mills a 57-41 advantage with just under five minutes left. The Scorpions had taken control but Largo didn’t fold.
Behind a pair of 3-pointers by Aaron Thomas, the Lions (14-10) outscored Oakland Mills, 16-4, over the next several minutes to cut their deficit to 61-56 with 42 seconds left on the clock.
“We were going to continue to play hard. We weren’t going to lay down,” Largo coach Lewis Howard said. “We felt that we could compete with them and we did. It was a great basketball game, it just came down to a couple plays that they made and we didn’t.”
The Scorpions had a chance to put the game away at the foul line but missed the front end of three straight one-on-one’s, keeping Largo’s chances alive. Oakland Mills finished just 7-of-20 from the charity stripe.
Luckily, Willis got a timely steal and was fouled in the closing seconds to ice the game.
“If we want to win regionals, we’re going to have to make free throws,” Willis said. “All we have to do is practice our free throws because our defense is good. We can tighten up on offense a little and stay out of foul trouble.”
Largo came ready to play and after closing the first quarter with an 8-0 run, the visitors led, 17-12. Their play in the open court led to quick buckets and seemed to shock the Scorpions.
“It was tough because we’ve never really trailed like that in the first half,” Willis said. “They came out strong and gave us good competition. We had to play our game in the second half.”
But as it had all year when facing adversity, Oakland Mills responded. Long scored six points in the second quarter and Williams’ 3-pointer gave the Scorpions a 30-29 lead. Bundu’s putback at the buzzer gave Largo a 31-30 halftime lead.
Long sparked the 11-0 run out of halftime with a putback in the paint. Fast break layups by Williams and Bradley put the Scorpions up, 47-35, entering the fourth quarter.
“At halftime, coach just told us to get it done like he always tell us,” Long said. “We took it to heart. We weren’t going home. Since the beginning of the season, the second half was been our best part of the game.”
Browne believes the final four minutes of this game – more than any other four-minute stretch of the season – will help his team as they prepare to make a push for the regional title.
“In the end this was great for us. These are the kinds of games that shows why we practice,” Browne said. “You can get a little cocky and loss your focus. That’s when you go home.
“Tonight we made enough plays early enough to survive but this is totally a teachable moment for the kids. Maybe we needed this and it’s a wakeup call.”
Oakland Mills 64, Largo 58
L (14-10): Bundu 23, Carter 10, Thomas 8, Ihearauh 6, Majors 4, Thompson 4, Gardner 3.
OM (24-0): Willis 17, Long 16, Williams 14, Dent 6, Bradley 5, Reyna 4, Zayatz 2.
Half: 31-30 L.