River Hill senior forward Charlie Thomas lead the Hawks with 31 points to a victory over Glenelg Wednesday, March 4, in the second round of the 3A East region playoffs. (Brent Kennedy/Howard County Times video)
It took less than 10 seconds Wednesday night for senior Charlie Thomas and the River Hill boys basketball team to set the tone against visiting Glenelg.
Thomas won the opening tip, raced into the frontcourt, took a feed from teammate Jay Martin and threw down an emphatic dunk as the start of a 10-0 run by the Hawks in the first four minutes.
River Hill never lost the lead the rest of the way and Thomas went on to score a game-high 33 points en route to an emphatic 65-34 victory over the Gladiators in the second round of the 3A East region playoffs. For Thomas, a senior headed to play at Wisconsin next year, it was the first postseason victory in his four years on varsity.
"Coming into this game, we had never won a playoff game as long as I've been here, so this was a big game for us," Thomas said. "We only had one goal and that was to dominate. And that's what we did."
The win advances River Hill (18-5) into the section finals against Reservoir, a 56-48 winner over Atholton on Wednesday (CLICK FOR STORY), in a game that is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday.
But for the Hawks, who have now won 17 of their last 18 games, the team's entire focus going into the match-up with Glenelg was on getting over that playoff hurdle. And, according to River Hill coach Matt Graves, there were a lot of factors that played into what he called the team's "best all-around game of the season."
"I think having the days off that we did to get mentally rested, having Charlie and Gary (Sandler) not won a playoff game in their previous three years and then having that home environment — it all created the perfect storm if you will," Graves said. "Honestly, that second half was maybe one of the best halves of basketball I've ever coached at any level."
While the first half certainly set the tone and helped the Hawks to a 24-16 lead after the opening two quarters, it was the third quarter that undoubtedly decided the game. After Glenelg scored four of the first six points out of halftime to temporarily cut its deficit to six, River Hill proceeded to roll off 18 straight points over the next five minutes.
Thomas accounted for half the points during the run, but Martin also played a big role by scoring five of his 14 points in that stretch. In the blink of an eye, Glenelg trailed by 24.
"It was a matter of us wanting to be the aggressors," Graves said. "We couldn't let them dictate how we were going to play. A team like Glenelg, which has phenomenal shooters, if you let them hang around then they are going to beat you."
"Our big emphasis was to get the ball in the paint to Charlie and then if he's doubled-up, rotate it around and get easy scoring opportunities."
Glenelg, which was led on the night by Nick Oates' 17 points, never trimmed the River Hill lead under 20 points the entire fourth quarter. The Gladiators had won five straight games to close the regular season, but simply ran into a buzz saw on the road against the Hawks.
Late in the game, River Hill even got to put a little icing on the cake as bench players Tim French made a jumper and Cianda Ndiritu banked home a 3-pointer in the final seconds to create the final 31-point margin.
While excited about the win, Thomas emphasized afterward that this is only the beginning.
"I'm just trying to stay in the moment and enjoy myself, man … hopefully get down to Xfinity Center for the state championships. That's what we're trying to do," he said.