Mt Hebron boys basketball emphasized the importance of coming out aggressive in the practices leading up to Friday night’s game. That was evident from the start as the Vikings consistently attacked the basket and kept up that aggressive mentality, defeating Oakland Mills, 58-46.
“All week I kept saying, ‘Let’s stay aggressive,’” Mt. Hebron coach Malik Gilmore said. “We knew we could run with them, but we couldn’t run lateral with them. We knew if we went straight downhill north and south, we’d be able to win this game. So, a big part, especially in the first half, was getting Gage Cobb downhill, he went 8-for-9 from the free-throw line in the first half. That helped us big time and then it helped Kenny Akinlosotu, Cooper Strohman, Anitej Ayyamgari and Andrew Oak get some touches.”
Oakland Mills struggled to stop the ball in the opening quarter and the Vikings made it play. Cobb connected on all four of his free throws in the frame as Cole Willey and Tai Akinlosotu also found success attacking off the dribble. The Scorpions’ inability to stop dribble penetration persisted into the second quarter, but they still led 20-18 midway through the period. That quickly changed.
“Every team we play, any guy can take us off the dribble,” Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. “We can’t get by anyone on the other end of the court no matter who we play. A lot of that is we don’t look to penetrate. We dribble east and west; we don’t go north and south. We don’t even attack the zone, getting into the gaps, and then we turned the ball over.”
Mt. Hebron (4-9, 2-6 Howard County) executed a 14-4 run over the final 3:30 of the first half, flipping a two-point deficit to an eight-point halftime lead. Tai Akinlosotu knocked down a pair of triples during that span, part of his team-high 17-points. Cobb, Kenny Akinlosotu and Oak also added buckets over that stretch, building momentum for the Vikings. Oakland Mills’ offense was also stymied by Mt. Hebron’s zone defense, which denied paint touches to Dejuan Taylor, who entered Friday night’s contest averaging 17.7 points per game.
“I liked how my bench was able to come in and help us extend the lead,” Gilmore said. “They helped us get those 14 points. Andrew Oak hasn’t played much this year, but he’s been a team player, steps in and knows when to do the right thing. That’s everything we’ve been preaching this year. We can win if we play as a team and our guys went in and trusted each other. I told them, ‘If we trust each other and compete together, we eat together.’”
Midway through the third quarter, Oakland Mills (8-6, 5-4) made consecutive shots and found the defensive intensity it had been searching for with its press. Avery Dompreh and Kamal Francis ignited the offense, bringing the Scorpions to within five midway through the period.
However, after Gilmore called timeout, the Vikings adjusted to the press more effectively. Kenny Akinlosotu had half of his 12 points during the frame, while Oak provided a tough bucket inside of the final minute, giving the Vikings a six-point lead after three quarters.
“There’s been recent games where we didn’t keep our composure,” Kenny Akinlosotu said. “Coach told us during the timeout that we’ve got to keep our composure and run our plays right. We ran our favorite play, Gonzaga, which was a good play to get the ball moving.”
Mt. Hebron grew its lead in the final quarter, in the bonus for much of the final eight minutes, finishing 20-of-32 at the charity stripe. Oakland Mills continued to struggle from the field with just two fourth-quarter field goals, and at the foul line where it finished 8-of-19.
Fittingly, Tai Akinlosotu put the finishing touches on the win with a transition layup off a steal inside the final 30 seconds.
“This is a great confidence builder because we had a tough loss against Hammond last week,” Tai Akinlosotu said. “We just wanted to start it off right, finish the Friday off with a win and then head into next week.”