In an up-and-down opening game befitting of two teams looking to establish an identity in the wake of graduating large senior classes from last winter, Joppatowne outlasted Oakland Mills 49-46 Thursday night on the road.
Mariners’ junior Trey Willinger scored his only basket of the game with 26 seconds remaining and then added a free throw in the final seconds to provide the deciding points in the season-opening victory. Oakland Mills had a look at a game-tying 3-pointer as time expired, but Truth Norton’s attempt came up just short.
“I told them just now that they showed a lot of resiliency tonight, and there are going to be games like this where you have to find a way to get ugly wins,” Joppatowne coach Johnny Brooks said. “It’s all about finding a way. Look at Trey, first thing he said after the game was ‘My fault.’ He felt he didn’t play as well as he can play tonight, but when we needed plays at the end he stepped up and delivered.”
On the other side, Oakland Mills (0-1) struggled to put the ball in the basket. After racing out to a 16-7 lead with just under three minutes left in the first quarter, the Scorpions hit just seven field goals the rest of the way.
Even with the offense not converting, however, it was still a one possession game for much of the final five minutes.
“I don’t think we quit at any point, and it’s not about these guys lacking a desire to win, but our inexperience absolutely showed tonight,” Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. “We made way too many silly mistakes and just could not hit the side of the barn. Honestly, it starts with practice. The effort there is what carries over into games and we aren’t working hard enough in practice right now.”
Alan Brown (13 points), Kyree Ellis (11) and Quian Thompson (10) led the way offensively on the evening for Joppatowne (1-0), with Brown kicking off the game with a 3-pointer.
After that, though, Oakland Mills used its pressure defense to score 16 of the next 20 points overall. During one two-minute stretch in the middle of the first quarter, the Scorpions scored 11 unanswered.
“We came out with a lot of energy and adrenaline, the excitement of it being the first game at home definitely played into that,” Browne said. “But then that adrenaline wears off and you have to settle in and run your stuff. That’s when we started to struggle.”
Joppatowne buckled down to close the first quarter, cutting its deficit to 16-13 by the end of the period. The Mariners’ then trimmed the Scorpions’ lead to two, 22-20, by halftime.
“I thought cutting it to one possession by the end of the first quarter was huge, especially with how poorly we were playing at the time. I think that allowed us to settle down and realize we could play with them,” Brooks said.
Joppatowne grabbed the lead early in the third quarter and eventually extended its cushion to as many as nine points later in the period. The advantage for the Mariners was still eight with 6:05 remaining in regulation, but that’s when the Scorpions found another gear.
A handful of made free throws, to go along with a 3-pointer by Norton (8 points), made it a one possession game again with 4:55 left.
Then, with a minute remaining, Oakland Mills’ Barry Evans (team-high 12 points) made a layup to tie the game at 46.
A defensive stop got the Scorpions back the ball with a chance to take the lead, but a turnover with just over 30 seconds left spoiled the opportunity and Willinger responded with a driving layup on the other end to put Joppatowne up for good.
Quran Briggs (20 points), Evan Ichrist (17) and Justin Cargiulo (15) all had big nights to help the Vikings open the season with the victory on the road. The three leading scorers for Mt. Hebron combined to go 13-16 from the foul line.
The Vikings are back in action on Friday on the road against Reservoir.
MH (1-0): Quran Briggs 20, Evan Ichrist 17, Justin Cargiulo 15, Justin Michelotti 8, Christian Nazaire 2.