From Day 1 this winter, Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan hasn’t been shy about saying he thinks he has the deepest team in Howard County. On Saturday afternoon against visiting Oakland Mills, with the team’s top three scorers having fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, the Gators’ bench stepped in and backed up those words.
Capitalizing on a double-digit lead it built during the first half, Reservoir held off surging Oakland Mills down the stretch for a 61-58 victory. It was the first loss in county play for the Scorpions since February of 2012.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we treat it like we have two starting fives. They may not get the same minutes every night, but I tell each of them that they all have their important roles,” Coughlan said. “Tonight those roles were reversed. Our stars were sitting on the bench, and all those other kids stepped up. They were ready in a big situation and that says a lot about those guys.”
Joe Kearney, who was one of the two Gators’ starters not to foul out, hit four crucial foul shots in the final 90 seconds to help hold off an Oakland Mills (11-1, 13-2) team that outscored Reservoir (9-3, 9-5) 23-9 over the final 10 minutes of regulation.
“I’ve struggled at times this year and have made an emphasis on practicing free throws … I actually shot 50 free throws today before the game,” Kearney said. “I went up there at the end acting like I was just shooting by myself in the gym and knocked them down.
“I knew how important every single point was.”
In the loss, which snapped a 30-game winning streak against county competition for the Scorpions, Mamadou Ndiaye led the way with a team-high 16 points and 11 rebounds. Kyle Reilly (17 points), Alex Hedgren (11) and Aaron McDonald (10) paced Reservoir.
The Gators raced out of the gates to a quick 8-3 lead on the strength of two Reilly 3-point shots. Then, after Oakland Mills closed within a point in the final minute of the first quarter, Reservoir strung together a 13-0 run to create the game’s first double-digit advantage.
Bench players Brian Parker and Kevin Mayers combined for eight big points during that stretch.
“I think the guys gained a lot of confidence from last year, seeing how close we played them both times, and I think it kind of manifested itself into tonight,” said Coughlan, whose team lost the two meetings against Oakland Mills last year by a combined six points.
Oakland Mills regrouped slightly but still went into halftime down by nine, 37-26.
“We were stagnant offensively, too much watching guys try to go one-on-one and then not getting back and finding guys on the other end,” Browne said. “We absolutely were not ready to go in that first half.”
The foul trouble for Reservoir was an issue in the first half, but really started to show itself in the third quarter. By the end of third quarter, four Gators’ starters had four fouls and as a team they had been whistled for 12 fouls over an eight-minute stretch.
The good news for Reservoir was, thanks to some strong play from Hedgren and Reilly, the team had managed to maintain its nine-point cushion heading into the final eight minutes.
Even as Oakland Mills continued chipping away at the lead in the fourth quarter, Reilly and the Gators came up with just enough answers to keep the momentum from completely switching hands.
“We kept reminding each other to keep attacking and stay aggressive … not play backwards as coach likes to say,” Reilly said. “We couldn’t play to their momentum. We had to work to develop our own.”
It took all the way until there were less than two minutes remaining for Oakland Mills to get it back to a one-possession game. And, once there, the Scorpions had five different attempts at baskets in the final minute that would have tied the game.
But ultimately, with none of the tries finding the net, the handful of missed lay-ups and foul shots down the stretch caught up to Oakland Mills. On the game, the Scorpions shot just 19-39 from the foul line.
“We had every opportunity and didn’t take advantage. We missed 20 free throws and it felt like we missed 20 lay-ups as well,” Browne said. “That’s a good team, we knew that, and still only showed up for a half. Sure, we made a valiant effort at the end, but you can’t get away with the mistakes we made against a good team like that.
“Hopefully it will help us to be better going forward. Sometimes you have to lose to drive home that message that you have to play hard for four quarters.”
Reservoir played the final three minutes without Reilly, McDonald or Seth Henry, who all fouled out during the early stages of the fourth quarter. In their absence, a combination of five to six different guys stepped in and filled their roles on the defensive end.
The win for the Gators was the team’s fifth in the last six games and keeps alive a glimmer of hope at making a run at this year’s county title. With seven county games left, the Gators are two games back of first-place Oakland Mills and still have another meeting against the Scorpions scheduled at the end of the regular season.
“It’s just one more step for us toward counties. We came in knowing that to have any chance we have to win out and this game was a part of that,” Reilly said. “It’s definitely huge and it gives us confidence, but it’s also part of what we had to do to stay alive.”
Reservoir 61, Oakland Mills 58
Re (9-3, 9-5): Reilly 17, Hedgren 11, McDonald 10, Kearney 6, Parker 5, Reynolds 4, O’Hagan 3, Mayers 3, Henry 2.
OM (11-1, 13-2): Ndiaye 16, Willis 15, Kiely 10, Tapscott 8, Williams 4, Bradley 3, Aaron 2.
Half: 37-26 Re.