Even after watching a once double-digit lead evaporate midway through the fourth quarter of Friday’s 2A state semifinal against Oakdale, Oakland Mills senior Will Robinson Jr. wasn’t panicking.
He and his Scorpions’ teammates had been in that position before, holding off a furious comeback by Douglass in the region title game, and Robinson simply knew it was time to answer.
The 6-foot-4 forward proceeded to score eight of the game’s next nine points to help Oakland Mills (23-3) retake the lead and create a cushion large enough to hold on down the stretch for a 66-61 victory. Robinson ended up delivering 12 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter.
“As a team you can’t cry about a team coming back,” he said. “Basketball is a game of runs. They made their run, now it was time for us to make our run.”
Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne, whose team will play in the state championship game against Patterson on Saturday at 6 p.m., says this year’s team hasn’t always made it easy, but knows how to come together in crunch time.
“We’ve found ways to lose games in the past and have found ways to win games, but this team is obviously very resilient,” Browne said. “We called some timeouts, we got it (together) ourselves … but yeah I would think that ultimately these guys know how to win, there’s no doubt about that.”
Oakdale (19-6), which was led in the loss by Jared Ruiz (21 points), had gotten itself off to a relatively strong start to jump out to a three-point lead, 13-10, in the late stages of the opening quarter.
But the Scorpions began getting themselves to the basket toward the end of the first quarter and that momentum carried over into the second period as well. On a mix of lay-ups and a dunk, Oakland Mills put together an 18-3 run in the first six minutes and 42 seconds of the second quarter to take a commanding 34-17 lead.
“We came together and said we need to work the ball around and move the defense around. And then we needed to go to the basket, that’s what we’re best at,” said junior point guard Daniel Kiely (11 points).
Oakland Mills carried a 36-21 advantage into halftime and maintained that 15-point lead through the opening four minutes of the third quarter.
But, just as it had done during the early stages, Oakdale started getting itself to the rim again. Ruiz and Sean Jordie provided a spark to close the third period on an 8-2 spurt that made it 51-44.
Then, with another 9-0 push to start the fourth quarter that was punctuated by a three by Ruiz, Oakdale had come all the way back to grab the lead, 53-51.
“The biggest thing for us at halftime was to get our guys to not hang their heads. We knew we had to come out with energy because we knew there’s not another game after this if you don't win,” Ruiz said. “You know, in that third quarter we made a run and in that fourth quarter we made a run.”
But for all the work Oakdale had done to grab the momentum, Robinson and Oakland Mills countered with nine straight points of their own to grab it right back.
Oakdale never went away in the final minutes, getting as close as three points again on three different occasions. However, Oakland Mills never lost the lead.
Mamadou Ndiaye (15 points) and Robinson each made two of two from the foul line in the final 32 seconds to help seal the win.
“Free throws have been an Achilles heel for us the whole season, we’ve missed a lot. But I think the bigger the game, the better for us,” Ndiaye said. “We knock them down when it matters.”
Oakland Mills is now just one victory away from securing the second state championship in program history, with the other coming in 1990.
“For the program … it’s a really great run right now. We are having a lot of fun, we’re enjoying it and are ready to come back tomorrow,” Browne said. “All in all, the last couple weeks have been a real fury of tenacity and entertainment. Some hard work, some luck, some poor play and some great play. We take the good with the bad and we’ve managed to find ways to win games, so I’m very proud of the boys right now.”
Oakland Mills 66, Oakdale 61
OM (23-3): Robinson Jr. 22, Ndiaye 15, Kiely 11, Williams-Day 9, Stanfield 6, Hopkins 3.
O (19-6): Ruiz 21, Jordie 12, Schlee 9, McGaughey 8, Gillespie 8, Lecuona 2, Lynn 1.
Half: 36-21 OM.