For one night, Marriotts Ridge put aside talks about county titles or playoff positioning.
As far as head coach Tim Brady was concerned, going up against a Reservoir team that had defeated his squad by 23 points in mid-January, Thursday was simply about the Mustangs proving that they belonged.
“Redemption is obviously a very sweet thing, but more than that we needed to show that we were capable of hanging with the top teams. We’ve had some great wins this season, but against the best of the best — Reservoir and Oakland Mills — we played two of our worst games,” Brady said. “So the message this whole week was, we need to show who we are … that we weren’t that team that got blown out at their place a month ago.
“This was absolutely a statement game for us.”
And what a statement it ended up being.
Marriotts Ridge junior John Miller talks about the Mustangs' 57-51 win over Reservoir on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.
Led by a game-high 24 points from John Miller, including 12 in the decisive fourth-quarter, the Mustangs delivered a very loud message to the rest of the county in the form of a 57-51 comeback victory over the visiting Gators. Marriotts Ridge (11-3, 15-5) pulls into a tie for first place with Reservoir (11-3, 15-4) with two county games left in the regular season.
Neither the Mustangs or Gators have ever won a boys basketball county championship.
“We knew we were there the whole game … it was within four points most of the game and we just had to hit big shots,” said Miller, who helped ice the game by scoring six of his team’s eight points in the final minute. “The whole key to that game was our defense. We held them to  and I don’t think we’ve lost a game this year when team’s have scored [that few against us].”
Marriotts Ridge, which also got strong games from Austin Avent (11 points) and Kaden Bryan (10), improves to 9-0 when holding the opposition to 55 points or less.
On the other side, Reservoir was held to its second-lowest point total of the season and saw an 11-game winning streak snapped.
Rashod Ballard (13 points), Kaleb Glasper (10) and Jaylen Manning (10) paced the offense, but the Gators’ sputtered down the stretch after holding a 40-33 lead with 6:52 left in regulation.
“They made some decent adjustments as the game went on, moving someone over to sit in the lane and take away the driving lanes when we looked to attack in that fourth quarter,” Reservoir coach Ian Pope said. “We simply didn’t move the ball the way we are accustomed to moving it. But man, Marriotts Ridge played great. They limited us to one shot, they outrebounded us and then made some clutch shots of their own at the end.”
Reservoir, which had beaten Marriotts Ridge 67-44 in that first meeting, looked like they might run away with this one as well in the early going. Ballard started on fire and the Gators had an 11-point advantage, 14-3, six minutes into the game.
“In those first few minutes, I saw that first game happening before my eyes all over again. I called timeout and actually told the guys that I was going to use every single timeout that I had during the first half if that’s what it takes,” Brady said. “We didn’t have to make major changes, we just had to start doing those little intangible things.”
Sure enough, the Mustangs began diving for loose balls, sliding over to take charges on defense and all five players on the floor crashed the glass for rebounds. Marriotts Ridge cut its deficit to five points at the half, 26-21, and hung around in the third quarter to trail by six, 37-31, going into the final period.
Then, after Ryan Saunderson (8 points in his first game back from injury) hit a 3-pointer to make it 40-33 with just under seven minutes remaining, the Mustangs made their big move.
Avent and Bryan made layups to get the push started and then Miller made back-to-back shots as part of 9-0 run that gave Marriotts Ridge its first lead of the game, 42-40, with 3:54 showing on the clock.
Cole Tran later added a huge 3-pointer and Avent made another layup in transition to keep the Mustangs in front. Miller then calmly stepped in to finish the job.
“Anytime tonight we needed a little push, [John] gave it to us,” Brady said. “I told him afterward, that’s the best of him that I’ve ever seen … and that’s saying something. He made tough baskets, he grabbed rebounds and then he raced back down to the other end and gave that same effort and energy on defense.”
Miller helped hold Reservoir’s leading scorer Bobby Hill (17.6 ppg) to a season-low two points.
Marriotts Ridge has county games against Oakland Mills and Mt. Hebron left on the schedule, while Reservoir closes with Long Reach and Glenelg. Should both teams win out, they would share the county crown after splitting games during the regular season.
It’s that chance to still make history that Pope reiterated to his team in the locker room after the game.
“I think we all — the guys and us as coaches — recognize things we could have done differently so this was a huge learning experience for us. My hope is that it makes us hungrier,” Pope said. “There’s a reason county championships are so hard to win … they don’t come without adversity.”
Marriotts Ridge 57, Reservoir 51
MR (11-3, 15-5): Miller 24, Avent 11, Bryan 10, James 7, Tran 3, Page 2.
Re (11-3, 15-4): Ballard 13, Glasper 10, Manning 10, Saunderson 8, Ameli 6, Jerry 2, Hill 2.
The Hawks completed the season sweep of the Eagles, spoiling a chance for Centennial to move into a tie for first place with a win. Nick Marshall scored 20 points, including 13 in the second half, to lead the way for River Hill.
Ethan Smith (season-high 17 points), Levi Lawal (11) and Tishe Saliu (10) also scored in double figures for a Hawks’ team that has now won three straight games — their longest winning streak of the season.
River Hill led by as many as 12 points in the second half.
C (10-4, 15-5): Bonner 17, Sedlacko 14, Taylor 13, Baker 11, Benavides 4.
Half: 32-27 RH.
Oakland Mills 61, Hammond 59
In a matchup between crosstown rivals, the Scorpions prevailed down the stretch despite being outscored by six points in the second half by the host Golden Bears.
Ke’mari Simpson scored a game-high 18 points, followed by nine points apiece from DJ Hopkins and Truth Norton. Hammond nearly completed the comeback behind strong games from Ian Addison (16 points), TJ King (14) and David Aodu (11).
OM (11-4, 16-5): Simpson 18, Hopkins 9, Norton 9, Evans 7, Gray 7, Jackson 5, Diaby 4, Ndiritu 2.
Ha (4-9, 8-11): Addison 16, King 14, Aodu 11, Edwards 9, Thomas 3, Bennett 2, Mair 2, Moore 2.
Half: 34-26 OM.
Atholton 68, Wilde Lake 44
The Raiders had six players score eight or more points on the way to handing the Wildecats their most lopsided loss of the season. Jack Anderson led the way with a season-high 12 points, followed closely behind by Jordan Oates (11) and Jabari Rankin (11).
A (8-5, 12-7): Anderson 12, Oates 11, Rankin 11, Brown 10, Daniel 9, Swartz 8, Scott 3, Miller 2, Jennings 2.
Nate Curtis, who returned to the court after missing the last five games, and Jack Walsh each scored a team-high 14 points to lead the Gladiators to the narrow home victory. Max Pearcy added 13 points to the winning effort.
Quran Briggs and Evan Ichrist scored 18 points apiece for Mt. Hebron in the losing effort. The Vikings battled back from a 35-19 deficit at the half behind a 24-point third quarter.
G (6-8, 9-10): Curtis 14, Walsh 14, Pearcy 13, Dry 4, Stepniak 4, Tolbert 4, Della Russo 3, Owens 2.
MH (0-14, 1-19): Briggs 18, Ichrist 18, Lewis 10, Millen 7, Brown 2, Cargiulo 2.