It might have been opening night, but Mt. Hebron’s poise and composure down the stretch against North County on Thursday night was in midseason form. Behind a game-high 20 points from Mark Smith, to go along with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks from David Herlihy, the Vikings held off several second-half comeback attempts by the Knights to earn a 63-53 victory.

“It was experience that made the difference tonight,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “We have everybody back except for one guy basically and that makes such a big difference in being able to close out games. It wasn’t a perfect game, we probably should have closed them out a couple times earlier, but there’s something to be said for being able to finish it off and win.

“In a tight game, we made plays that we didn’t most of the time last year.”

Answering North County’s press, which created 21 turnovers on the night, was the key in the end. The Knights put together four runs of five straight points or more over the course of the evening, yet never got any closer than four points after the first quarter.

When the Vikings slowed down and worked the ball to the middle of the floor, they were able to generate open looks in transition.

“We had trouble breaking it at first, but coach called timeout, settled us down and we started making easier passes that got us some good looks,” said Smith, who scored 15 of his points in the first half. “Last year was a long year, struggling to break presses … so I think tonight showed how much we’ve improved in that area.”

Mt. Hebron set the tone early, with Herlihy and Smith combining for 10 points in the first three minutes to help the Vikings to a quick 10-2 lead. Zach Andreas (6 points) got in the act shortly after and Mt. Hebron had itself a double-digit advantage after the first quarter, 21-11.

After a North County run courtesy of five turnovers in a two-minute span to open the second quarter, Smith stayed hot to extend the lead once again. The junior sharpshooter, who finished with four 3-pointers on the game, made the Knights pay anytime they sat back in a zone.

“They were sitting back and didn’t close out fast enough, so I knew I could get my shot off,” Smith said. “It was nice too to see my first couple shots go in and that gave me the confidence to keep shooting.”

By halftime, the Mt. Hebron lead was up to 12, 33-21.

The Mt. Hebron lead fluctuated between six and 13 points over the final 16 minutes.

Other key contributors to the win for the Vikings were Mike Duan (6 points, 10 rebounds) and Connor Maloney (5 points).

North County got 15 points from Vincent Marshall, along with 14 points apiece from Marc’quise Butler and Corey Martin.

“That was a good team and probably very similar to a lot of Howard County teams in that they are athletic and have a number of players that can get to the rim,” Linsenmeyer said. “This was good for us in that respect. We saw what we need to work on and at the same time they realized that they’re capable of winning games like this.”

Mt. Hebron 63, North County 53

MH (1-0): M. Smith 20, Herlihy 19, Andreas 6, Duan 6, Maloney 5, Madden 4, A. Smith 3.

NC (0-1): Marshall 15, Butler 14, Martin 14, Lynch 4, Robinson 2, Howard 2, Latimer 1, Sheik 1.

Half: 33-21 MH.

Other scores:

Glenelg 67, Friends 51