It may not have been the start Glen Burnie coach Mike Rudd envisioned, but he could not have asked for a better ending.
Down 15-1 to start the game, and trailing until nearly the end of the third quarter, the Gophers came all the way back. Dayvon Cuffey had 16 points and 18 rebounds and Rocky Santos made two clinching free throws with 18 seconds left as Glen Burnie nipped rival Old Mill, 54-51, in boys basketball Friday night.
It was a loud, raucous Millersville crowd that showed up both for the nearby opponent and to dedicate the court in honor of former Old Mill girls basketball coach and athletic director Craig White, who passed away over the summer. Those in audience got their ticket's worth, but the opening few minutes did not forebode a classic ending.
"It has been a while since we made a comeback like that in this building," Rudd said. "What an environment. We are happy to get out of here with a win. That is a real good team over there."
The Patriots (7-3) scampered out of the gate, taking a quick 9-0 lead that caused Rudd to take his first timeout 3 minutes, 21 seconds into the game. That did not slow Old Mill, especially Camari Wilkerson. He made three 3-pointers and scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the opening period, including a trey at the buzzer that gave his team a 23-10 lead.
"We did not miss shots early," Old Mill coach Mike Francis said. "We did a good job reversing the ball two or three times and getting that shot we wanted."
Glen Burnie (9-2) clawed back in the second quarter on the strength of its inside presence. Cuffey only had two points in the quarter, but he, Markell Watkins (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Eric Powell, who had five second-quarter points, forced all of Old Mill's big men into foul trouble.
"We crashed the boards, closed out and got the shots back up," Watkins said.
Cuffey ate further into the Patriots' advantage in the third quarter when he scored seven more points.
"We have been in this position before and it was all about finding the ball inside, getting the and 1s and the layups, and just getting to the foul line," Cuffey said.
Rudd has had some good ones, and Cuffey is quickly falling into that category.
"We were not doing a good job early on the boards, but he stepped up," Rudd said. "He played his heart out. They all did."
The Gophers started the second half on an 8-0 run and Jayson Mouzon, Francis' godson, made a 3-pointer with 1:30 left in the third quarter to give the Gophers their first lead at 40-38. The score stayed that way to the end of the period.
"My own godson --- anybody but him," Francis said. "Now I will have to have him looking at me this weekend with the playoff games on."
Francis attributed the lost lead to his team's foul trouble inside and turnovers.
"We panicked a little, and we did not take the shots we had been earlier," Francis said.
The lead changed four times in three minutes midway through the fourth, with another 3-pointer by Mouzon, and a trey from RaQuan McCain, who had nine points, giving Glen Burnie a 46-44 lead with 3:18 to play. It was good, aggressive basketball, but the area where both teams are not going to look back fondly on is the free throw line. Glen Burnie finished 13 for 28 and Old Mill 10 for 20, with four critical misses late.
"We had our seniors on the line in the fourth quarter, and they missed the free throws," Francis said. "It wasn't pretty at all from the free throw line."
Marcel Jenkins evened the game at 49 with two free throws for Old Mill with 1:37 left, but Watkins came right back with a basket 10 seconds later. With both teams struggling at the charity stripe, Santos, who had yet to score in the contest, calmly stepped up and made both his freebies.
"My teammates just kept encouraging me to make the free throws; I am glad I was in that position," Santos said. "They kept me composed and told me to simply settle down and make the free throws."
Wilkerson made a layup and McCain made 1 of 2 free throws with eight seconds to play, and Wilkerson's last-second three hit the front rim.
"We kept the momentum going and we kept fighting, and that is how we are going to continue to play," said Cuffey, whose Gophers have now won six of seven.
Avion Robinson finished with nine points for Old Mill, and Devin Purvis grabbed 10 rebounds. The two teams will meet in Glen Burnie on Feb. 12, and Francis knows what he needs to see.
"We will only be as good as our seniors," Francis said. "They need to take the reigns, step forward and lead this team."
Glen Burnie (9-2)10141614-54Old Mill (7-4)2312313-51
Glen Burnie (54)
McCain 3(1) 2-7 9; Helinski 1 1-2 3; Powell 3 1-1 7; Mouzon 2(2) 0-0 6; Watkins 4 3-7 11; Cuffey 6 4-9 16; Santos 0 2-2 2. TOTALS: 19(3) 13-28 54.
Old Mill (51)
Wilkerson 7(5) 5-10 24; Denton 1 0-2 2; Jenkins 2(1) 2-2 7; Robinson 2(2) 3-4 9; Purvis 1 0-0 2; Holbrook 0 0-1 0; Johnson 1 0-1 2; Bush 0 0-0 0; Kaskins 1(1) 0-0 3; Butler 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 16(9) 10-20 51.