Three-point shooting, smothering defense propel Reservoir to playoff win over Centennial
By Kyle Stackpole
Mar 04, 2019 | 9:45 PM
|Howard County, MD
Sophomore Aria Ameli talks after scoring a game-high 20 points, including six 3-pointers, in the Gators' 61-51 victory over Centennial in the 3A East, Section I semifinals.
Back in late November, before Aria Ameli had even played a varsity game, Reservoir boys basketball coach Mike Coughlan expected that his sophomore guard would hit 150 3-pointers over his career. He figured Ameli would hit 40 shots from beyond the arc this season, tack on 50 more as a junior and make 60 during his senior campaign.
Well, it’s not even the end of his first varsity season, and Ameli is already ahead of schedule.
Ameli has now hit 53 3-pointers this winter after converting six of his 10 tries in a 61-51 playoff win over Centennial on Monday night. His barrage of triples gave him a game-high 20 points, which was just the offensive spark second-seeded Reservoir needed to advance to Wednesday’s 3A East, Section I final.
The Gators (15-8 overall) will host No. 4 seed Mt. Hebron, which upset No. 1 seed and county champion Atholton, 67-57, on Monday night.
“He’s as good of a shooter as we’ve had,” Coughlan said. “I told him to play with freedom, and he took it to heart tonight for sure.”
As a team, Reservoir made as many attempts from beyond the three-point line (10) as it did from inside the arc and actually shot better from distance, making 58 percent (10-for-17) of its 3-pointers compared to 52 percent (10-for-19) from two-point range. It’s partly what allowed the Gators to build a 42-25 lead after three quarters before having to hold on down the stretch.
The other deciding factor was smothering defense, especially in the second and third quarters following a shaky start.
For the first eight minutes, Reservoir did not have an answer for Centennial’s half-court offense, which routinely created open shots for a starting lineup that boasted multiple quality shooters who capitalized on their opportunities. Joey Sedlacko (team-high 18 points) and Michael Kefyalew each hit early 3-pointers and totaled five points during the opening period. The Gators, meanwhile, committed seven turnovers and faced a 15-12 deficit.
Points came at a premium in the second quarter until the final two minutes, when Reservoir put together a scoring run that its opponent could not overcome.
Trailing, 19-18, Ameli hit his second 3-pointer. On the next possession, Ryan Saunderson banked in the first of two triples on the night. Ameli then knocked down another long ball right before intermission, pushing his team’s lead to eight in what was a very evenly matched first half.
“My coach has a lot of confidence in me, so he just tells me to shoot the ball whenever I’m open,” Ameli said. “He kind of gets mad at me when I don’t shoot the ball or pass up shots.”
The lead grew to 35-19 minutes into the third quarter thanks to two more 3-pointers from Ameli, who also added three steals for a Reservoir team that allowed just 10 points over the second and third periods.
As the fourth quarter began with Centennial trailing, 42-25, the Eagles needed offense — and fast. And for the first three minutes, it was nowhere to be found. A layup from Kaleb Glasper (10 points) put the hosts up 19.
But as coach Chad Hollwedel has seen all year, his team did not give in. It ratcheted up the defensive intensity and shot the ball with confidence from behind the 3-point line. By the four-minute mark, Reservoir needed a timeout with its advantage down to 14. With two minutes to play, Sedlacko brought the Eagles within seven on his third 3-pointer of the period.
The Eagles (13-10) totaled 26 points in the final frame and got the score within 51-46 with 1:43 to play before back-to-back Reservoir layups all but sealed their fate.
Coleman led all scorers with 20 points, while Prox, in just his second game back from injury, added 18 points and Odell Dickerson chipped in 15 points. The No. 4 seed Vikings, who also handed Atholton its first regular-season loss on Dec. 17, have now won seven of their last nine contests. Next up is a date with No. 2 seed Reservoir in the sectional final on Wednesday.
As for Atholton, it’s a disappointing finish to a banner season. The Raiders finished 16-2 in league play and won the program’s first county championship since 2014. Even with Monday’s defeat, the Raiders end the season with a plus-13.7 point differential.