Trailing entering the fourth quarter for the first time all season, Atholton found itself in need of a spark against host Old Mill in the opening round of the Patriot Holiday Classic on Thursday night.
Senior Michael Bernetti was more than up to the task.
Scoring 21 points over the final eight minutes, giving him a career-high 39 for the game, Bernetti helped the Raiders overtake Old Mill down the stretch for a 73-62 victory.
"After the way we played in the first half, leading by nine points, I knew that we could beat this team. We just had to get back to clamping down on defense, working for good shots and hitting the foul shots when we got them," Bernetti said. "For me, personally, it was really just getting the ball in situations where I could score and everything kind of just kept going from there."
Atholton (6-1 overall) closed the game on a 17-0 run and 13 of those final points ended up coming from the foul line. Old Mill, which was assessed six technical fouls over the course of the evening, picked up four of them in the final 65 seconds.
With those additional trips to the line, piled on top of the Old Mill's other 10 personal fouls in the final four minutes, Atholton generated the chances it needed to erase a deficit that was as large as eight points in the fourth quarter.
"Being poised and keeping our composure is something we always talk about … but man, I tell you what, that was wild. I've never seen anything like (those final minutes)," Atholton coach Jared Albert said. "It says a lot about the guys that even though we had never been in a situation like that this season, trailing like that, they answered. We could have probably shot even a little better than we did from the line, but we made enough of them when they counted."
With the win, Atholton advances to face Eleanor Roosevelt at 7 p.m. on Friday in the tournament championship. Eleanor Roosevelt handed previously undefeated River Hill its first loss of the season, 67-43, in the other opening round game.
The Raiders allowed Old Mill to score the first points of the game and then never trailed again in the first half. Bernetti scored the team's first six points and Atholton established leads of four points, 12-8, after the first quarter and nine points, 36-27, at the half.
It was in the third quarter, however, that Old Mill finally began putting things together. On the strength of David Jones (15 points) and Kei'andre Wilborne (12), the Patriots outscored the visiting Raiders 21-7 in the period to grab a 48-43 lead.
Old Mill then kept its foot on the accelerator to start the fourth quarter, pushing its advantage to eight, 57-49, following a hook shot by Wilborne with 4:17 left on the clock.
But Bernetti, who scored his team's first 12 points of the final quarter, wasn't going to be denied. He produced a three-point play to cut into the deficit and then used a combination of lay-ups and free throws to bring the Raiders all the way back.
It was his two foul shots with 1:13 left in regulation that knotted the game at 62.
"Last couple games he's kind of put the team on his back at times and when we need a bucket, he's not afraid to have the ball in his hands," said Albert, noting that Bernetti has scored 21 or more points in three straight games. "He's doing what a senior leader should do and he's getting better and better every game."
In addition to Bernetti's big night, Atholton also got 10 points from Brandon Willis, who was a perfect 6-6 from the line down the stretch.
On the strength of its outside shooting, Eleanor Roosevelt turned a low-scoring affair into a runaway victory.
The Raiders hit 12 3-pointers on the game, including five during the decisive second quarter, on the way to a 24-point victory. Andre Fox (22 points) and Larry McCan (20) each hit six shots apiece from beyond the arc.
"We're not used to hitting 12 like we hit today, but we have some shooters and it certainly makes us a lot more dangerous when we can hit some threes," Eleanor Roosevelt coach Brendan O'Connell said. "Just as important as the shooting, though, was that we did a great job on the offensive glass and barely had any turnovers in the first half."
Eleanor Roosevelt (5-1) was up 13-10 after the first quarter, but outscored River Hill (6-1) 24-5 during the final eight minutes before halftime. Throw in two quick lay-ups to open the third quarter, and River Hill was trailing by 26 points, 41-15.
"We knew they had three very good shooters, but playing against an athletic team like that you kind of have to pick your poison and we decided to force them to be a jump-shooting team," River Hill coach Matt Graves said. "I can't remember the last time a team has hit that many threes against us, but they were just that hot."
River Hill did finally muster some offense, starting with a three-point play by Charlie Thomas (16 points, 12 rebounds) that kick-started a 20-8 run by River Hill to close the third quarter. A desperation 3-pointer by Cole Gable (6 points) got the Hawks within 14, 49-35, with eight minutes left — the closest the team had been since the middle of the second quarter.
Any comeback hopes, though, were dashed when Eleanor Roosevelt scored the first four points of the fourth quarter and never allowed River Hill to get closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
"We expended so much energy to get back that I thought we just didn't have enough left," Graves said. "But the guys did show some life in that second half and that was good to see. Hopefully that rolls over into tomorrow's match-up with (Old Mill)."
RH: Thomas 16, Sandler 7, Gable 6, Patterson 6, Titus 6, Richardson 2.
Half: 37-15 ER.
Long Reach 58, Paint Branch 55
Terrell Lamar had a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds) to lead the way for the Lightning in the opening around of the CKA Holiday Tournament at Paint Branch. Long Reach will play B-CC in the championship game on Friday at 7 p.m.
LR (3-5): Barr 12, Broadnex 2, Carter 9, Duckett 12, Lamar 10, Menusan 5, Montgomery 3, Paul 5.
Chancellor Barnard scored a career-high 37 points to lead the way for the Dragons in the victory, which advances the team into the semifinals of the George Long Tournament in Virginia against Annandale on Friday at 4:30 p.m.