Having just watched his team complete an improbable comeback Friday night, defeating Oakland Mills 85-76 in overtime after trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel found himself at a loss for words as he addressed his team in the postgame locker room.
So instead of drawing things out, Hollwedel kept things simple.
“I just went in there and said, ‘I don’t have a lot to say other than I’m just flat out proud of each and every one of you.’ We just beat a very good basketball team and it took a complete team effort to do it,” Hollwedel said. “That right there is why I coach high school basketball.”
Four guys scored 16 or more points, led by Chase Conley’s 23, and Centennial (13-6, 16-6) ended up shocking Oakland Mills (16-3, 18-4) on its senior night.
A win would have guaranteed the Scorpions at least a share of this year’s county championship, but despite not trailing for the final 28 minutes of regulation, Oakland Mills simply couldn’t close the door on the visiting Eagles.
It was a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Centennial’s Chad Strothers at the end of the fourth quarter that tied the game at 73 and forced overtime. Then, in the extra period, the Eagles used their momentum to outscore Oakland Mills by nine, including the final 10 points of the game.
“I credit them, they really attacked us late in the game … right off the inbounds play they were beating us down the floor for lay-ups or fouls,” Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. “They made more plays than we did and then in overtime we were done … you could see it in the looks on our (guys’) faces.
“My hat is off to Centennial, though. What a shot and what a game.”
Strothers, whose three to close regulation brought the Centennial bench spilling onto the floor, ended up with 16 points on the night. Those three points that spoiled Oakland Mills shot at the county title, he says will stick with him for quite awhile.
“I just saw the clock running down and I knew the play wasn’t for me, but we had no one else to go to so I went to the ball and pulled up,” Strothers said. “When it went through, man, there was no other moment quite like that in my life.”
While the night ended in heartbreak, Oakland Mills spent much of the game in control of things. Mamadou Ndiaye (26 points) came roaring out of the gates with 11 first-quarter points, including four dunks to stake the Scorpions to a 20-16 lead after the first eight minutes.
Then a balanced scoring effort in the second quarter, with Deshawn Willis (16 points) and Daniel Kiely (16) getting in the act, helped Oakland Mills increase its lead to 34-24 at the half. Things extended out to as many as 15 points, 41-26, in the early stages of the third quarter.
“We were running some good offense. I thought we were attacking the high post and getting some backside cutters,” Browne said. “We were very unselfish and we were getting a lot of lay-ups.”
Just as the game was getting away from the Eagles, though, they found life behind Conley and Tom Brown (22 points). The duo combined for a 9-2 run in the span of just one minute of game time to get Centennial back within single digits.
“Out of the timeout when we were down 15, we had a definite discussion about simply how do we want this to look,” Hollwedel said. “We knew at our place, they had gone up by 21 and we came back and fought, but this had a different feel to me. We kept making a couple little runs, but they would come back at us and separate again.
“But these kids, no matter what the situation, they just never give up.”
For as hard as Centennial was pushing, though, Oakland Mills still had a 10-point cushion with 3:16 on the clock following another dunk by Ndiaye.
It wasn’t until those final three minutes, that the Eagles were able to come all the way back.
A lay-up by Brown made it a two-point game, 72-70, with 30 seconds left. Then, following a made foul shot by Oakland Mills’ Willis, Strothers ended up with the ball in his hands in the make-or-break moment.
“We didn't call his number for that shot … but Chad got the ball, looked it straight in and he wasn’t afraid to fire,” Hollwedel said. “Time and situation, he delivered. And I thought he played well all night, a lot of little things that helped get us in that situation.”
In the decisive overtime period, it was 3-pointer by Brown (22 points) that gave Centennial its first lead since the first quarter. From there, a smattering of made foul shots from Conley, Brown, Isaiah White (19 points) and Walter Fletcher (3 points) put the game out of reach.
Heading into the playoffs, Strothers said this kind of win could do wonders.
“It’s a great confidence booster,” Strothers said. “It just lets us know that if we play well and execute, we can compete with any team.”
Centennial 85, Oakland Mills 76 OT
C (13-6, 16-6): Conley 23, Brown 22, White 19, Strothers 16, Fletcher 3, Ung 2.
OM (16-3, 18-4): Ndiaye 26, Kiely 16, Willis 16, Williams-Day 8, Williams 6, Aaron 4.
Half: 34-24 OM. Regulation: 73-73.