The capacity crowd packed into Reservoir’s gym Thursday night for the 3A East Region II championship between the Gators and Atholton were treated to one of the more memorable chapters in arguably the area’s most intense rivalry.
At the end of a game that featured 12 lead changes and several huge swings of momentum, it was Atholton’s defense that ultimately stood tall in the game’s biggest moments. The Raiders held the host Gators scoreless for the final two minutes of overtime and stormed the court in celebration after Reservoir’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out, securing a 62-60 victory and the program’s first region title since 2009.
“Both teams absolutely emptied the tank tonight in an unbelievable environment, so for us to come on the road and do what we had to do to pull this out is hard to put into words. We asked the kids to play legendary and that’s exactly what they did,” said Atholton coach Jared Albert, who took over as head varsity coach in 2012. “They just accomplished something this program hasn’t done in a very long time and they should be extremely proud of themselves.”
Raymond Brown led the way with 17 points, Deven Daniel chipped in with a career-high 15 and Jordan Oates (10 points, 17 rebounds) made the biggest shot of the night — a 3-pointer early in overtime — to pace Atholton (18-7) in the win. The Raiders now advance to the 3A state quarterfinals on Saturday as the fifth seed, traveling to face off against C. Milton Wright.
After losing in its playoff opener last year, Brown said the team has been extra hungry this postseason.
“We’ve had a bad taste in our mouths ever since the end of last season, so I think that has helped us to be real focused this time,” Brown said. “We have a great group of guys and we are really jelling right now. We feel like it’s all coming together for us.”
Reservoir (19-5), a 3A state finalist last season, was in it until the very end. Bobby Hill (19 points, 12 rebounds) made a layup with 15 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 58 and force overtime.
Then, even after allowing Atholton to score the first four points of the extra period, the Gators clawed their way back to have several chances to tie the game in the final minute. In the end the shots were just off the mark, including the three by Kaleb Glasper as time expired.
“Hats off to Atholton, they played a tremendous game and got buckets when they needed them. They just never stopped fighting and it was a rivalry game that lived up to the hype,” Reservoir coach Ian Pope said. “But at the end there, I wouldn’t have had it any other way than to have the last shot. I will live and die with having Kaleb taking that shot every single time.
“Tonight it didn’t fall and that’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s a shame someone had to lose this one.”
Reservoir led by a point, 14-13, after the first quarter, but Atholton responded with a dominant second period. With the Gators’ keying in on Oates, Daniel and Brown stepped in to carry the load and the Raiders built a 31-22 lead going into halftime.
As was the nature of the back-and-forth game, though, Reservoir answered early in the second half to retake the lead midway through the third quarter following a layup by Rashod Ballard (season-high 17 points).
“I thought we had played into their hands by not pushing the ball in the first half. So coming out in that third quarter, we immediately started to attack the gaps right away and beat them down the floor before they could get into their zone,” Pope said. “We got a couple layups, a couple put-backs and then all of a sudden the outside shots fell too.”
Atholton methodically rebuilt a lead of seven points, 51-44, by the early stages of the fourth quarter before Reservoir came storming back once again. The Gators rattled off 10 unanswered points, including a pair of threes from Ballard, to retake the lead 54-51 with 4:25 to go in regulation.
However, just as things seemed to be slipping away from Atholton, Daniel stepped in with arguably his biggest shot of the season. With the shot clock winding down, he drilled a deep three to tie the game at 54-54.
“In my head, I was thinking we just needed a basket to get ourselves going again … something to get us back in it,” Daniel said. “When the ball came to me, I felt like it was my moment to make one for the team and that’s what I did.”
The two teams traded the lead a couple times from there until Hill hit a driving layup with 15 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 58. Neither team managed to score again and the game went to overtime.
In the extra period, Oates — the county’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game — finally found some room and delivered. After being held scoreless the entire fourth quarter, he hit a deep 3-pointer from the wing less than a minute into overtime to kick off the scoring and give Atholton a lead it never lost again.
“We game planned for them trying to take Jordan away, and he stayed patient. He certainly didn’t pout about not getting shots and instead he rebounded the ball, blocked shots and did everything he needed to do to keep us in position to win the game,” Albert said. “The other guys rallied behind him, made some big baskets for us, and then in overtime there — when it came down to it — Jordan seized the moment.”
Atholton’s Ian Swartz later hit one of two foul shots to increase the Raiders’ lead to four, 62-58, before Ryan Saunderson made a put-back basket to cut the Gators’ deficit in half with 2:12 left on the clock.
But that was the last time either team scored. Both squads missed a few shots from the floor and the front end of one-and-ones, eventually setting up Reservoir with the ball on its end line down two points with three seconds left.
The inbounds pass went to Hill, who dribbled a few times before hitting a streaking Glasper for the final shot. The attempt was just a bit long, though, and Atholton was the one doing the celebrating.
Atholton 62, Reservoir 60
A (18-7): Brown 17, Daniel 15, Oates 10, Swartz 7, Anderson 5, Miller 4, Rankin 4.
Re (19-5): Hill 19, Ballard 17, Manning 9, Ameli 6, Glasper 3, Ha 3, Saunderson 3.
Latest Howard County Sports
Half: 31-22 A; Regulation: 58-58.