Atholton’s boys basketball team was in control with four minutes left in its playoff game at Oakland Mills on Tuesday.
The Raiders led by 14 points, and they hadn’t trailed since early in the first quarter.
However, the Scorpions proceeded to go on a 9-0 run over a span of just one minute— thanks to two 3-pointers from DJ Hopkins and three free throws from Truth Norton — to cut their deficit to five points.
It was in that moment, just as the momentum seemed to be shifting, that Atholton senior Jordan Oates quieted the home Oakland Mills crowd for good.
Oates caught a perfect bounce pass from Ian Swartz on a back-door cut and made a contested layup after being fouled, squashing any Scorpions’ comeback hopes and setting the stage for a 79-68 Atholton victory that advances the team into Thursday’s MPSSAA 3A East Region II championship.
“That’s what you expect your best players to do,” said Atholton head coach Jared Albert. “We’re extremely confident in him, and we know he knows what to do in those situations. That was a big bucket.”
Oates led the Raiders with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He made two 3-pointers in the first quarter, grabbed key rebounds in the middle two quarters to clean up down low and then scored the crucial basket late in the fourth quarter.
“Basketball is a game of momentum,” Oates said. “We stayed calm, didn’t panic and kept playing the way we know how to.”
“That layup was a back-breaker, and that took the wind out of our sails,” said Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne. “We made a good run to get it to 65-60, but then the wheels came off. We started a little slow, and you can’t do that in the postseason.”
With the win, the Raiders will play at No. 1 Reservoir (19-4) in the region championship on Thursday.
Oakland Mills led 4-3 early in the first quarter, but Atholton (17-7) ended the period on a 16-4 run. Jack Anderson came off the bench on fire for the Raiders, making his first four shots to score 10 points in the first period. He ended the game with a career-high 14 points.
“That kid is the last one out of the gym on most days,” Albert said. “It was great for him to come in like that, and he can do that on a regular basis. His start was kind of infectious for everyone else. Jack set the tone for us tonight.”
Three other Atholton players scored in double figures, as Raymond Brown and Jabari Rankin both tallied 14 points and Ian Swartz chipped in with 10. Rankin’s 14-point performance is a season high, while Swartz’s tally is only the third time he’s scored 10-plus points this season.
“It’s always good when you have that because it spreads the floor. Our guys did a good job of executing,” Albert said. “That’s what the playoffs are about. Guys have to step up. Everyone knows about Jordan and Ray, but we’ve got a quality supporting cast behind those guys, and they stepped up tonight.”
The win is the first game this season the Raiders have registered five players in double digits, as they’ve only had a handful of games with four 10-plus-point scorers in a single game.
It was also an efficient night for Atholton, as the Raiders were 26 of 50 (52 percent) from the field.
“They can’t just take one player away,” Oates said. “They have to stick on all of us, and we can play team ball.”
The Raiders led 28-12 in the second quarter, but Oakland Mills’ Barry Evans then powered a surge into the Scorpions. Evans made a 3-pointer and tallied two three-point plays on and-one layups to bring the Scorps within seven points. Evans ended the game with 17 points.
“He’s a stud for us,” Browne said about Evans. “He has a huge skillset. He can do a lot of different things. He’s long, he can handle the ball, he can shoot and he’s our best defender.”
Atholton was ahead by only seven points at halftime, but a quick run early in the third quarter put the Raiders up 14 points. They led by 10-plus points for the rest of the second half until the Raiders saw their 14-point lead dwindle down to five points before Oates’ key layup. The final three minutes became a free-throw contest, as the Scorpions fouled the Raiders in hopes of getting back into the game. The Raiders made their free throws, ending the game 18 of 27 from the charity stripe.
Despite the loss, Browne “appreciates” the work his seniors gave the program. The Scorpions graduate Norton, Hopkins, Ke’mari Simpson, Jordan Abraham and Ahmed Diaby.
“I told them that their best days are ahead of them,” Browne said. "If you look at the way they’ve grown, I feel a parental sense of pride. I thought DJ Hopkins left it all on the court tonight, especially.”
The Raiders will play at Reservoir at a time to be determined on Thursday. The Gators won their regular-season matchup, 60-47, and Albert said he knows both teams and schools are looking forward to the game.
“On the road, it will be a tough environment,” Albert said. “I know Reservoir is looking forward to it, and our guys are looking forward to it.”
Atholton 79, Oakland Mills 68
A (17-7): J. Oates 21, J. Rankin 14, J. Anderson 14, R. Brown 14, I. Swartz 10, D. Daniel 4, A. Rabb 2.
OM (17-6): D. Hopkins 21, B. Evans 17, A. Diaby 10, T. Norton 9, K. Simpson 6, J. Abraham 2, S. Jackson 2, J. Ndiritu 1.
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Halftime: 35-28, A