It took battling through overtime and what coach Jon Browne called the worst first half of basketball the program has played in more than two years, but Oakland Mills ultimately found a way to outlast visiting River Hill, 61-59, Wednesday evening.
Scoring 14 points in the extra period, 12 of which came courtesy of layups, Oakland Mills (7-0, 9-1) secured a victory that keeps the team undefeated in Howard County. River Hill (7-2, 7-4) had a final shot to win it in the closing seconds, but its desperation heave at the buzzer sailed wide left.
“We found enough plays down at the end to win,” Browne said. “We were lethargic and watching the game in the first half, but down the stretch our weak-side basket cutters got us wide-open layups.
“We finally got some movement and that all starts with the defensive effort.”
Oakland Mills ended up with three guys — Daivon Tapscott (15 points) Mamadou Ndiaye (13) and Deshawn Willis (13) — in double figures to offset huge nights from River Hill’s duo of Charlie Thomas (24 points) and Mike Heitzmann (16).
In the opening few minutes of the game, it was Tapscott who helped stake the Scorpions to a five-point lead. The senior forward scored seven of his team’s first eight points to create an 8-3 advantage.
Complicating matters for River Hill was that Thomas was forced to the bench with his second foul midway through the opening quarter and sat the rest of the half. After a three-pointer 29 seconds into the second quarter by Marvin Williams (7 points), Oakland Mills was up by seven, 15-8, and looked poised to create some separation.
That, however, was the last basket the Scorpions scored before the break.
River Hill clamped down defensively and Heitzmann heated up from beyond the arc to bring the Hawks all the way back into the lead, 16-15, heading into the locker room.
“We got them out of their comfort zone and we ran our stuff … to be ahead at the half with Charlie sitting for (12) minutes was a huge win in itself for us,” River Hill coach Matt Graves said.
Browne said the energy was non-existent for his group and credited River Hill’s patience as a contributing factor.
“At the half we talked about it, but the guys obviously knew we were playing terribly. With Charlie on the bench, we did absolutely nothing,” Browne said. “And that’s a very good basketball team over there that was loving that tempo. They were forcing us to play at their pace.”
River Hill kept things at a slower pace to start the third quarter as well, watching the lead grow to eight points, 28-20, with 3:21 left in the period after a 3-pointer by Thomas.
With their backs against the wall, though, Willis and Ndiaye gave Oakland Mills life. The duo combined for 11 of the Scorpions' next 13 points to spark a run that helped reclaim the lead.
“Coach has told me since the beginning of the season that the team is going to play off my energy, so at halftime it was up to me to step up,” said Willis, who hit a 3-pointer to start the comeback. “It was time to put the team on my back, play defense and get the ‘W.’ ”
Oakland Mills never trailed from the fourth quarter on, but never separated itself from River Hill, either.
Tapscott produced several big baskets late in regulation for the Scorpions, while Heitzmann answered for the Hawks. Then, with 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter, River Hill’s Tre Patterson squared things at 47 with a 3-pointer from the wing.
Oakland Mills’ attempt at the buzzer was off the mark and the game went to overtime.
In the extra period, Willis scored six points and Ndiaye had four to help Oakland Mills build and maintain a lead until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“As the game went on, the crowd got more into it and a little more panic kicked in for us,” said Graves, whose Hawks’ squad also lost to Atholton in overtime on Monday. “We got a little uptight and made some poor decisions at the end, but we’re going to try and focus on the positives. We had a great defensive first half, with one of our best players on the bench, and the guys showed tremendous heart the entire way.