Matt Johnson kept telling himself to stay positive and be ready in case he got another chance to make things right.
After missing three foul shots in the final minute and then watching Oakland Mills come down and tie the game, 66-66, on a Larry Aaron put-back with 10 seconds left, Johnson indeed got another opportunity and he didn’t waste it.
The Golden Bears’ senior took a feed on the left wing from teammate Brandon Willis, dribbled past a pair of defenders and finished off the glass with a second left on the clock for the deciding basket in a 68-66 victory that handed the visiting Scorpions their first county loss of the season Wednesday night.
“When I got the ball, my first thought was just go … I knew I had to make it up to my team, because I had missed two free throws the play before,” Johnson said. “I knew I was going to do something to make it up to my team and I just wanted to get the win — that was the most important thing.”
On the heels of the team’s most lopsided loss of the season — 59-31 against Dunbar on Saturday — Hammond coach Mike Salapata said it was gut-check time for his squad and their response was everything he could have hoped for.
“Saturday humbled them and, honestly, for the first time all year these guys were embarrassed. But sometimes that’s a good thing,” Salapata said. “They came back ready on Monday for practice, we put the game plan in and then we came out and played hard tonight. So, not that I wanted a 28-point loss, but there at least was something good that came out of it.”
Hammond (12-2, 14-3) is now a game back of first-place Oakland Mills (14-1, 16-2) in the Howard County standings with a little under two weeks left in the regular season.
The Golden Bears certainly looked like a motivated team from the onset, getting some strong play early on from Willis (game-high 25 points), Johnson (17 points) and Ryan Ridgell (9) to grab a quick 10-3 advantage. By the end of the first quarter, Hammond still led by six, 18-12.
But Oakland Mills made its big move early in the second quarter courtesy of a 10-0 run that was keyed by Daniel Kiely (23 points), along with Deonte McFadden (9 points) off the bench. Following a lay-up by Naquan Williams-Day (9 points), the Scorpions had their first lead of the game, 21-20, with 5:20 remaining in the second quarter.
The lead changed hands five more times before halftime, with Oakland Mills holding a one-point advantage, 33-32, at the break.
Things continued to flip-flop for most of the third quarter until back-to-back lay-ups by Johnson and Willis provided Hammond with a 54-48 lead going into the final quarter.
Then, midway through the final period, Jarvis Doles (10 points, 12 rebounds) got going and the Golden Bears managed to open up their largest lead of the night, 65-55, with 2:30 left in regulation.
“I had faith in my teammates and they had faith in me, and we all made plays down the stretch — whether it was rebounding, hitting shots or forcing bad shots on the other end,” said Willis, who finished the night with seven assists to go with his points. “We were making the hustle plays and it all just came together today, especially in that fourth quarter.”
But, with its back against the wall, Oakland Mills didn’t go down without a fight. Getting a spark from its bench following Williams-Day fouling out, the Scorpions proceeded to go on a 11-1 run that was capped by the lay-up from Aaron (11 points) with 10 seconds left that knotted the score for the first time since the third quarter.
Missed foul shots by Hammond certainly helped the cause, but Oakland Mills’ found a renewed energy in those final minutes of regulation.
“We didn’t start playing defense in that fourth quarter until there were two-and-half minutes left … just so lethargic. But I give it to the guys, they really dug in there at the end to even give ourselves a chance,” Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. “That was fun, a great basketball game.”
With the game tied, the Golden Bears opted to not call timeout with Willis dribbling up the court and eventually finding Johnson for the last-second heroics.
“We talk all the time about we aren’t going to call timeout in that situation with everyone scrambling and credit to Matt for keeping his head up and being ready to get the ball,” Salapata said. “He stepped up when his team needed him and made a play.”
In what has truly been a turnaround season for a Hammond program that finished last in the Howard County standings a year ago, Salapata added that this was a much-needed signature win.
“Just for our program, to get where we’ve been talking about, you have to get a win like that or else it’s all just talk,” he said. “Now these kids have something to hang their hat on and hopefully it motivates to keep going forward from here.”
Hammond 68, Oakland Mills 66
Ha (12-2, 14-3): Willis 25, Johnson 17, Doles 10, Ridgell 9, Aja 5, Lamar 2.
OM (14-1, 16-2): Kiely 23, Aaron 11, Wiliams-Day 9, McFadden 9, Harris 8, Campbell 4, Hopkins 2.
Half: 33-32 OM.
River Hill 60, Mt. Hebron 54
The Hawks snapped a nine-game losing skid with some clutch play down the stretch that included Ori Clark and Jake Robinson combining to go 4-4 from the foul line in the final 30 seconds.
River Hill took care of the basketball and made the most of Mt. Hebron’s mistakes all evening.
“It was probably our most efficient game we have played all season,” River Hill coach Matt Graves said. “We only had five turnovers the entire game ourselves and then scored 20 points off of their turnovers, which speaks volumes.”
Dylan Mitchell led the way for River Hill in the win with 13 points.
Mt. Hebron, which finished the game an impressive 13 for 17 from 3-point range, was led by Johnny Linsenmeyer’s 15 points (5 threes).
RH (3-11, 4-13): Mitchell 13, Martin 9, DeSimone 7, Ndiritu 7, Kause 7, Robinson 6, Hraky 5, Clark 3, Isaac 3.
MH (5-9, 8-9: Linsenmeyer 15, Madden 13, Prox 12, Horton 7, Schroeder 3, Shriver 2.
Half: 32-26 MH.
Centennial 54, Long Reach 45
The Eagles snapped a six-game win streak by the Lightning, getting big games from Tom Brown (19 points) and Michael Merkey (13). Centennial was ahead at the end of every quarter.
Tre Morgan led the Lightning with 19 points and 12 rebounds in the loss.
C (9-5, 11-6): Brown 19, Merkey 13, White 5, Addisu 4, Hohmann 4, Sedlacko 3, Fowler 2, Fant 2, Smith 2.
LR (9-7, 10-9): Morgan 19, Parham 6, Chad Brown 6, Dix 6, Menusan 5, Chan Brown 3.
Half: 27-20 C.
Reservoir 68, Marriotts Ridge 51
The Gators jumped out to a 38-14 lead by halftime and never looked back. German Garcia had a season-high 17 points, making five 3-pointers, to lead the way for Reservoir in the win.
Re (7-9, 8-11): G. Garcia 17, Payne 12, J. Garcia 9, Phillips 7, Ricketts 6, Omorogbe 6, Akinbinu 5, Carey 5, Winters 2, Miller 1.
MR (2-12, 3-14): Geiger 10, Wright 10, C. Ingersoll 8, Heard 5, L. Ingersoll 5, Jones 5, McIntyre 2, Morath 2, Dar 2, Lunsford 2.
Half: 38-14 Re.
Atholton 49, Howard 40
The Raiders snapped a four-game losing skid, getting double-digit scoring efforts from Cole Mason (13 points), Noah Mendelsohn (11) and Blake James (10).
Atholton used a big first-quarter to grab a 17-8 lead and then rode that advantage the rest of the way to the victory. Howard had closed within two, 42-40, in the fourth quarter before Mendelsohn banked home a 3-pointer to extend the lead and kick off a 7-0 run to close the game.
Mendelshon and James combined for 14 rebounds to lead the effort on the interior.
A (6-8, 9-8): Mason 13, Mendelsohn 11, James 10, Waterworth 5, Rankin 4, Jackson 2, Washington 2, Perlin 1.
Ho (9-6, 12-6): Greene 11, Shuart 10, Scaife 8, Dawkins 6, Ajai 2, O’Malley 2, Hawkins 1.
Half: 24-17 A.
Glenelg 71, Wilde Lake 51
The Gladiators broke open what was a close game at the half to eventually pull away for the team’s fourth straight win. Trevor Winn had a season-high 24 points to lead the way for the Gladiators.
G (8-6, 9-8): Winn 24, Powell 13, Piwowarski 9, Walsh 9, Currie 6, Thai 4, Taylor 2, Mills 2, Coburn 2.
WL (3-11, 3-14): Stubblefield 12, Ichrist 11, Cantwell 9, Barnes 6, Samuels 5, Boateng 4, Robinson 2, Greene 2.
Half: 25-22 G.
Glenelg Country 62, Calvert Hall 53 (MIAA A Quarterfinals)
The Dragons had four guys — Anthony Longpre (18 points), Matthew Bernetti (14), CJ Wilson (12) and Joshua Hightower (11) — score in double figures to help advance the team into a semifinal match-up against Mount St. Joseph on Thursday.
Glenelg Country was trailing by one, 26-25, at the half but used a big third quarter to build a 48-37 lead and cruise the rest of the way to the victory. Longpre added 9 rebounds to go with his team-high point total and Isaiah Burnett picked up a team-high eight assists.
GC (11-5, 18-7): Longpre 18, Bernetti 14, Wilson 12, Hightower 11, Burnett 7.
Half: 26-25 CH.