It's still a work in progress, but Seth Willingham's young Howard team is quickly learning how to win.
In the first round of their own holiday tournament Friday evening, the Lions prevailed in overtime against Chopticon, 57-52. It was Howard's second win in a row by five points or less and it has the team riding its first winning streak of the season.
"This group is still learning what it takes to win games like this because in the past they've struggled in situations like that. But they're definitely improving and these last two games were definitely big for confidence," said Willingham, who is in his first season as the Lions head coach. "We're still figuring things out, although I think we're moving in the right direction and with a young team that's always a positive."
Howard trailed early, falling behind by four points in the first seven minutes, before regrouping to take control of things in the second quarter. A 12-2 run on the back of strong play from sophomores Bryce Shuart (career-high 18 points) and Patrick O'Malley (13) put the Lions up by eight points and come halftime the lead was still seven, 29-22.
Howard's lead swelled to as many as 13 points in the third quarter following a foul shot by Michaud Reyna (9 points). It was just as the Lions appeared poised to put the game away, though, that Chopticon found life.
The Braves closed the third quarter on a 13-2 run to get within two points and then tied the game on the first possession of the fourth. Its lead may have been gone, but Howard did manage to keep from falling behind at any point down the stretch. By the time the horn sounded at the end of regulation, the game was tied at 49.
In overtime, Howard scored the first four points and then following Chopticon's only basket of the extra period — a 3-pointer by Austin Raines — Shuart closed things out with four straight free throws.
For Shuart, the 18 points were not only a career-high but shattered his previous high of five points against Hammond earlier this winter.
"Bryce stepped up big tonight, made some big shots and helped us in the scoring column," Willingham said. "It's a confidence thing for him I think, being just a 10th grader, and we needed that kind of game from him and from some of the other guys like Deondre Robinson, who was big off the bench."
Howard advances into the championship game at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Gaithersburg, which defeated Francis Scott Key, 64-45, in its first-round game.
After trailing by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, Oakland Mills battled all the way back to make a game of it down the stretch before ultimately falling one-point short.
The Scorpions had the ball with seven seconds left, but turned the ball over on the inbounds pass and never regained possession.
"We played only a half of basketball tonight and it cost us," Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. "Valiant effort on the fight, but we should have never been in that position. We need to come out of the gates ready to play."
Bowie's Dejuan Smith (34 points) and Jared Gray (23) paced the Bulldogs in the victory. A pair of foul shots by Smith right before halftime made it 38-24 in favor of Bowie heading into the break — the first time Oakland Mills had trailed at halftime this season.
"Halftime was simple, we were playing with no effort, not guarding anybody and until we wanted to play defense we were going to be blown out in our own gym," Browne said. "We got punched in the face and didn't respond, so there was definitely a little bit of yelling going on at halftime. But when it was put up or shut up time, we finally woke up and started making a game of it again."
Bowie pushed its lead up to 18, 45-27, before Oakland Mills stepped things into gear. The Scorpions, which got a team-high 21 points from Mamadou Ndiaye, closed the third quarter on a 17-8 run to get within six points heading into the final eight minutes.
Then, after Bowie went back up by 12 with four minutes left, Oakland Mills made a final surge to close its deficit to one point, 72-71, with 30 seconds remaining following a 3-pointer by Marvin Williams (13 points).
A defensive stop got the team the ball just behind midcourt, but Bowie stole the ball following a timeout and then dribbled out the clock.
The loss was the Scorpions first of the winter and means they will play in the consolation game on Saturday against Edgewood. While disappointed in the loss, Browne said it was a good lesson to learn.
"I hate to lose, but it's probably the best thing for us. It's a taste of reality," Browne said. "Having coached two undefeated regular season teams that fell short in the playoffs, sometimes you have to go through this. It's a wake up call that if you don't play your best, you can lose on any given night.
Long Reach 49, Bethesda Chevy Chase 48
The Lightning won back-to-back games for the first time all season and captured the championship trophy at the Paint Branch tournament along the way. Shane Barr, who scored 13 points to go with 4 assists and 5 rebounds, was named MVP. Ron Carter, who scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, was named to the all-tournament team as well for Long Reach.
"It was a nail biter right to the end, but we got the championship plaque, a little bit of hardware and definitely a confidence boost going into the new year," Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. said.
Ho (3-4): Shuart 18, O'Malley 13, Reyna 9, Noble 8, Robinson 5, Dargan 2, Perry 2.
Ch: Mitchell 12, Gagnon 12, Berry 9, Buckler 7, Raines 3, Mills 3, Ford 2, Aeschillman 2, Smith 2.
Half: 29-22 Ho.
Bowie 72, Oakland Mills 71
B (5-2): Smith 34, Gray 23, Washington 6, Bryant 3, Chambers 2, Monroe 2, Anthony 2.
OM (6-1): Ndiaye 21, Williams 13, Willis 11, Kiely 10, Bradley 10, Tapscott 6.
Half: 38-24 B.
Long Reach 49, B-CC 48
LR (4-5): Barr 13, Broadnex 2, Carter 11, Duckett 9, Lamar 12, Paul 2.
B-CC: Holston 4, Baore 2, Witts 16, Stewart 13, Brine 2, Carter 5, Schaengold 4.
Centennial 78, Friendly 66
C: White 23, Brown 17, Conley 8, Fletcher 5, Strothers 11, Clemens 6, Wilkin 2, Geist 2, An 2, Benavides 2.
F: Edmonds 11, West 9, Johnson 2, Holston 15, Kertley 8, Moore 18, Allen 3.
Half: 39-35 C.
Eleanor Roosevelt 71, Atholton 69
ER (6-1): Fox 26, Butler 13, Winstead 11, Best 9, McCan 6, Jabbie 4, Boyd 2.
A (7-2): Ballmer 19, Willis 16, Bernetti 10, Martin 10, Mendelsohn 6, Mason 6, Purdue 2.
Half: 32-26 ER,
McKinley Tech 52, Reservoir 42
MT: Carthen 15, Thornton 14, Lutete 13, Moorer 4, Perry 3, Jenkins 2, Williams 1.
Re (4-3): Henry 10, Reilly 7, Kearney 7, McDonald 7, Parker 4, Reynolds 3, O'Hagan 2, Hedgren 2.
Half: 24-18 MT.
Old Mill 85, River Hill 82
RH (6-2): Titus 27, Thomas 26, Sandler 17, Richardson 5, Patterson 4, Konda 3.
Half: 32-31 RH.
Mt. Hebron 69, Northeast 47
MH (6-2): Herlihy 20, M. Smith 12, Andreas 9, Maloney 6, Trapuzzano 6, A. Smith 6.
Glenelg Country 60, Annandale 43
The Dragons advance into the championship game of the George Long Tournament, where they will play host Wakefield at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday. Chancellor Barnard led the way for Glenelg Country against Annandale with a game-high 24 points, while Darryl Willaims (15 points) and Boris Rajovic (10) had strong games as well.
GC: Barnard 22, Williams 17, Rajovic 10, Wilson 7, Bernetti 4.
A: Hall 20, Tran 7, Johnson 6, Alston 5, Elnour 4, Fox 1.
Half: 30-22 GC.
Chapelgate 86, Atlantic Christian 77
Ch (8-5): Frierson 27, M. Grandy 12, C. Grandy 28, Morant 12, Hardin 4, Rivera 1, Fitzgerald 2.
The Gladiators hit 11 3-pointers on the game, with Dom Napolitano going for a career-high 24 points. Other standouts for Glenelg were Matt Hammert (14 points), Brent Richardson (11 points), Nick Oates (9 points, 8 assists) and Russell Jarboe (8 points).