Reservoir boys basketball coach Mike Coughlan was blunt in his assessment of the Gators’ defense so far this season: they were not playing physical enough.
Coughlan attributed part of that to referees calling too many fouls, but nonetheless he expects his players to constantly frustrate opposing offenses, and that has not always been the case. Through 14 games entering Thursday’s home tilt with River Hill, the Gators ranked in the middle of the county in scoring defense at 60.6 points per game.
Against the Hawks, though, Coughlan’s squad was relentless on that end of the floor. It forced nine steals and never let its foe get into its offensive rhythm, which led to even more turnovers and contested shots.
And in a game where points came at a premium, it was just the effort the Gators needed to snap their three-game losing streak with a 49-42 triumph.
“We were very physical today,” Coughlan said. “We made it very difficult on them, and legitimately it’s one of the only games that we’ve done that. I’m happy about that because we didn’t necessarily play well offensively besides the first quarter. But if we play defense like that, we’re going to be all right.”
Reservoir (7-4 Howard County, 10-6 overall) paired its smothering defense with a balanced attack in which eight players scored and six players hit 3-pointers. Josh Odunowo led the way with 13 points, while Aria Ameli, Kaden Toler and Ryan Saunderson combined for 21 points, all from behind the three-point line. As a team, the Gators shot 52.6 percent (10-for-19) from distance and 28.6 percent (6-for-21) from inside the arc.
Sophomore Nick Marshall paced visiting River Hill (5-5, 10-6) with 13 points but dealt with foul trouble that relegated him to the bench for much of the second and third quarters. Ryan Marshall (12 points) and Ming Yu (seven points) did their part to shoulder the scoring load in his absence, but a lot of that production stemmed from individual efforts and not within the offense, which looked out of sorts for much of the contest.
Despite the defeat, coach Matt Graves praised his team for hanging around in what he called an “ugly game.”
“It was one of those games where there was just no rhythm involved,” Hawks coach Matt Graves said. “A lot of fouls, a lot of scoring opportunities for us, but they were the tougher team tonight. They played through the contact, they made their free throws when they needed to and they hit the big shots when they needed to.”
A lot of those makes for Reservoir came during a 20-point first quarter. Toler hit both of his threes against the Hawks’ zone in the opening three minutes, while Saunderson drilled his pair of long-distance shots as the period drew to a close. However, the Marshall brothers also got into the three-point barrage, combining to make three of these attempts and keep River Hill within, 20-13, after the opening frame.
There were just two field goals in a second period that was filled with cheap fouls, turnovers and missed three throws. For River Hill, Elijiah Feeney nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Hawks within three at the 2:30 mark of the period. A few possessions later, though, Jaylen Manning banked in a long ball in the final minute that served as the half’s final bucket. Despite a five-point period, the Gators entered intermission with a 25-21 advantage.
Reservoir methodically extended its lead in the third quarter, as Ameli hit two three-pointers and Odunowo brought the crowd to its feet with emphatic dunk through contact off a turnover. He then corralled another steal moments later and settled for a layup, putting the Gators ahead by double digits.
River Hill closed the gap to 38-30 entering the fourth quarter and cut a 10-point lead to four in the final minute, but its late run came just a little too late. In discovering its defensive potential, Reservoir snapped its three-game losing streak to earn its 10th victory of the season.
“This was a big game to give us confidence because we really know in our head that not a lot of teams can mess with us, but this was just a good game to show us that,” Odunowo said. “This really opened our minds up because if the offense isn’t going and we’re playing defense like this, we could just imagine what would happen when the offense is going.”
Reservoir (7-4 county, 10-6 overall) — 49, River Hill (5-5, 10-6) — 42
Re — Josh Odunowo 13, Aria Ameli 9, Kaden Toler 6, Ryan Saunderson 6, Jaylen Manning 5, Victor McKoy 4, KyJuan McCallum 3, Kaleb Glasper 3.
RH — Nick Marshall 13, Ryan Marshall 12, Ming Yu 7, Jackson Graves 5, Elijah Feeney 4, Oj Okojie 1.
Halftime: 25-21, Re
Mt. Hebron (4-6 county, 7-9 overall) — 73, Hammond (2-7, 7-8) — 68
Mt. Hebron entered Thursday night’s game against Hammond with zero county wins in the past six weeks. Facing a five-point fourth-quarter deficit versus the Golden Bears only increased the likelihood that drought would continue.
However, Odell Dickerson had different plans. The county’s fourth-highest scorer poured in 16 of his game-high 23 points in the final eight minutes to carry the Vikings to a much-needed league victory. Hammond senior guard duo Jaylen Wiggins and Micah Henry combined for 41 points in the loss.
MH — Dickerson 23, Kinloch 14, Ichrist 11, Bates 9, Cargiulo 9, Coleman 4, Crump 3.
Ha — Wiggins 22, Henry 19, Allen 10, Mair 6, M. Miller 6, Addison 3, C. Miller 2.
Halftime: 31-22, MH