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Atholton boys basketball poses after defeating Wilde Lake, 61-50, to win the county championship on Feb. 22.
Atholton boys basketball poses after defeating Wilde Lake, 61-50, to win the county championship on Feb. 22. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)

During a professional work day for Howard County teachers on Feb. 5, Atholton boys basketball coach Jared Albert heard an insightful phrase he thought would resonate with his players as they pursued a county championship.

“When you know your why, your what becomes more important.”

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Delivering the quote was Eric Bishop, the school system’s coordinator of health and physical education, and it stuck with Albert, so much so that he made a note of it in his phone. He assumed a time would come when he could utilize the expression.

That time came Friday night at Wilde Lake. For Atholton, the “why” was a county championship. Beat the Wildecats on their home floor, and the Raiders would win their first county title since the 2013-14 campaign. The “what” was more complicated. It comprised all the factors Albert said has made his team so successful: rebounding with two hands, valuing possessions and taking quality shots, among others things. Struggling in these areas could change the completion of a game.

Albert preached this phrase to his team throughout its 61-50 victory. It helped them overcome a 32-24 halftime deficit, pull even by the end of the third quarter and then pull away with the victory in the final frame.

The Hawks built a 14-point halftime lead before holding on down the stretch for a 58-53 victory on Feb. 15.

By playing their game, both during Friday night’s contest and throughout the season, the county champion Raiders proved themselves as superior to the rest of the league.

“That quote, hopefully that’s going to resonate, and that’s something that I think could be our mantra going into the playoffs,” Albert said. “That’s what it’s about. ‘The why’ is all the goals the kids set, and now they just have to get used to playing more consistently and doing those little things over and over and over again throughout the course of a game versus a quarter or a half or three quarters.”

Leading the way for No. 10 Atholton (14-2 Howard County, 19-2 overall) were seniors Casey Parkins and Justin Oates, who scored 15 points apiece and were invaluable to their team at different points throughout the contest. With Atholton sputtering offensively in the first half, Parkins drilled three 3-pointers and scored 11 points overall to ensure Wilde Lake and senior guard Trea Keys (17 first-half points) did not jump too far ahead.

Parkins then turned the main scoring duties over to the Oates brothers, Justin and Jordan, who combined to score 20 of their 24 points over the final two periods. Wilde Lake (11-4, 14-6) simply could not handle their size and physicality inside. All the while, Parkins took Keys out of the offensive equation. Keys barely had the ball in his hands and rarely looked for his shot, scoring just four points for a Wilde Lake offense that looked lost without its No. 1 scoring option.

“We were just stagnant,” Wildecats coach Deon Wingfield said. “We just couldn’t make any shots.”

Despite the defeat, the Wildecats still have plenty to play for entering Monday’s regular season finale against Centennial. With a victory, they’d secure a first-round bye in the 2A South, Section I playoffs.

Friday’s game started poorly for Wilde Lake, which gave up two 3-pointers to Parkins and 10 of the first 13 points overall. But for the rest of the period the hosts dominated. The Wildecats scored 17 points, including 12 from Keys on 4-for-4 shooting. The Raiders, meanwhile, mustered just three points in response and trailed, 19-13, after eight minutes.

The game got within two points minutes into the second quarter yet the lead never changed hands. A 3-pointer from Keys, who finished with a game-high 21 points, put the Wildecats ahead, 28-24, with 1 minutes, 45 seconds to play before halftime. On the next possession, Emmanuel Wright enlivened the crowd with a breakaway dunk. And just before the break, Kwaku Boampong converted an easy layup to send the Wildecats fans into a frenzy and send two-loss Atholton into the locker room facing an eight-point deficit.

Still, the Raiders remained positive.

“When we were down, we didn’t look down on ourselves,” Justin Oates said. “We just kept pushing the ball … and worked as a team.”

Justin and Jordan Oates wasted no time asserting themselves in the second half. Justin and Jordan traded layups, then Justin made two more baskets to force a Wilde Lake timeout with the game tied at 34. Later in the period, it was Justin’s old-fashioned three-point play that put Atholton ahead, 39-36, marking its first lead since the opening period.

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The lopsided play continued with the teams deadlocked at 41 to start the fourth quarter. There were free throws and a layup from Justin and then a 3-pointer from Jordan, Atholton’s first of the second half. The Raiders’ lead was 51-44 and the visitors had all of the momentum.

By that point, the little things were the only things separating the Raiders from a victory. They involved staying strong with the ball, making smart passes and playing through contact. When Wilde Lake fouled, making free throws was a must.

Moments later the buzzer sounded with the Raiders ahead by 11. Their “why” had finally been realized.

“It feels great,” Justin Oates said. “All my guys, we just run as one.”

No. 10 Atholton (14-2 county, 19-2 overall) — 61, Wilde Lake (11-4, 14-6) — 50

A — Parkins 15, Justin Oates 15, Jordan Oates 9, Jackson 8, Daniel 5, Murray 5, Miller 4.

WL — Keys 21, Wright 11, Boampong 6, Marshall 5, Burris 4, Chamblee 3.

Halftime: 32-24, WL

Other scores:

Mt. Hebron (8-8 county, 11-11 overall) — 58, River Hill (10-6, 15-7) — 48

For most of the first quarter it looked as though Mt. Hebron would end the regular season on a three-game losing streak. The Vikings had scored three points compared to 17 for River Hill, who entered the game with five consecutive county victories.

Then came the Vikings’ comeback, which started by closing the deficit to 29-26 at halftime and continued into third quarter, when the Vikings held a 17-5 scoring advantage. Widening the scope, the Vikings outscored the Hawks, 52-31, over the final three quarters.

Terrell Coleman and Odell Dickerson spearheaded the Vikings’ furious charge with a combined 41 points.

MH — Coleman 24, Dickerson 17, Crump 8, Bates 5, Kinloch 3.

RH — Feeney 11, Yu 9, Okojie 7, O’Brien 6, Kirkland 6, Graves 5, Nick Marshall 4.

Halftime: 29-26, RH

Hammond (3-12, 8-13) — 62, Centennial (9-6, 12-9) — 58

It was a senior night to remember for Hammond guard Micah Henry, who has been one of the county’s best offensive players this season.

For starters, Henry led all scorers with 27 points as the Golden Bears defeated Centennial to snap their 12-game county losing streak. And after the game, Henry committed to continue his basketball career at Division III St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Hammond will close out the regular season against Marriotts Ridge on Monday before taking part in the 2A South, Section I playoffs.

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Ha — Henry 27, Wiggins 13, Aodu 10, Asa 6, Mair 2, Allen 2, Addison 2.

C — Sedlacko 22, Merkey 11, Hollwedel 6, Kefyalew 6, Berkeley 4, Bonner 4, Smith 3, Hwang 2.

Halftime: 31-25, C

Glenelg (4-12, 8-13) — 64, Long Reach (3-13, 7-14) — 59

Glenelg rebounded from a pair of close losses to outlast Long Reach on Friday night. Johnny Piwowarski was the big scorer with 27 points, but fellow Gladiators senior guard Carson Dick (18 points) also played a major role offensively.

The Gladiators have now split their past eight league games after starting the county season 0-8.

G — Piwowarski 27, Dick 18, Koele 9, Chappell 4, Owens 2, Trawick 2, Onwumbiko 1, Soltis 1.

Halftime: 28-27, G

Marriotts Ridge (8-7, 11-8) — 83, Howard (1-13, 5-15) — 57

Finally healthy, Marriotts Ridge cruised to a victory on Friday night.

Brandon Held again led the Mustangs in scoring while Josh Olsufka (19 points) continued his recent stretch of stellar offensive play and Cam Heard (18 points) continued to find his groove after missing some time with a concussion. Amari Little, who was also sidelined the past few games, added 10 points in the win.

MR — Held 21, Olsufka 19, Heard 18, Little 10, Moore 4, Page 4, Lee 3, Cole Brown 2, Miller 2.

Halftime: 37-29, MR

Tuscarora — 73, Reservoir (13-8) — 70

Re — Odunowo 25, Toler 20, Ameli 6, McCallum 6, Manning 6, Bradford 4, Saunderson 3.

Halftime: 38-26, Re

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