Reservoir boys basketball is predicated on teamwork, with no one player expected to carry the group on a nightly basis. It’s what has propelled the Gators to a successful regular season and two blowout playoff wins entering the 3A East region final on Friday night. It’s how the Gators planned to knockout Northeast and win just their second region title in program history.
But after the Gators’ 70-56 triumph, which came exactly six years after the school won its first region title in 2013, one player turned out to be the difference.
"His name is Josh,” coach Mike Coughlan said.
Coughlan was referring to senior forward Josh Odunowo and his 29-point, 23-rebound, five-block performance in the biggest game of his high school career. After a quiet start, Odunowo scored 25 of his team’s 31 points in the second half and was at his best in the final frame, when he was the only Reservoir player to make a field goal. He made seven of them and added three free throws, totaling 17 points, and grabbed seemingly every rebound on both ends of the floor.
At the final buzzer, fans stormed the court to celebrate one of the biggest wins in school history. They recognized Odunowo’s excellence, too, hoisting him above the sea of orange, white and blue to admire the euphoria his effort largely helped create.
“What was going through my head was that I can’t end my career like this at Reservoir,” Odunowo said. “In the first half I had four points, so I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got to take over. I can’t go out like this. Even if we do win, I don’t want this to be my last memory at home.’”
Odunowo’s mastery, combined with seven first-half 3-pointers, were the biggest reasons Reservoir is advancing to next week’s 3A state semifinals at the University of Maryland's Xfinity Center in College Park. The Gators (17-8 overall) will play 3A West champion Thomas Johnson on Thursday afternoon.
“They’re just very, very diverse and they had a lot of mismatches,” Northeast coach Roger O'Dea said. “If we wanted to go man, I had to take out some of my personnel to cover them defensively, which hurts us on the offensive end. And then vice versa. If I want to stop them in a zone, we had to really get out on [Aria Ameli] but then we had to watch [Josh Odunowo].”
Playing for their first region title since 1983, Northeast (12-13 overall) relied on guards Brandon Lebarron, Jaylin Albury and Keishon Thomas for offensive production against a stingy Reservoir defense. While Lebarron led Eagles with 14 points, the Gators heavily pressured him from beyond the arc and did not let him make a 3-pointer, which would have set Northeast’s all-time record. Albury and Thomas, meanwhile, each added 10 points but hit some difficult shots in the process.
Even sophomore Jaleel Petty gave his team a spark with eight fourth-quarter points, but whenever the Eagles came within single digits, Odunowo was there to keep Reservoir comfortably ahead.
“Unbelievable, literally unbelievable,” senior Josh Bradford said about Odunowo’s career night. “He’s something different. One of the best to come through here.”
Odunowo did not have to do much scoring in the first half because of players like sophomore Aria Ameli and his five 3-pointers, which gives him 17 triples over three playoff games. Ameli hit his second long ball midway through the opening period, followed by a KyJuan McCallum transition layup and Kaden Toler 3-pointer. Just like that the Gators were ahead, 17-7.
A 21-15 advantage entering the second quarter increased to double digits late in the frame thanks to more sharpshooting, as Ameli and Toler combined to hit four 3-pointers in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds. Northeast found its offensive groove by that point as well but was traded twos for threes, a formula that left them trailing, 39-26, at intermission.
The Eagles abandoned their zone defense in the second half and subsequently thrived in contesting three-point shooters and disrupting players trying to attack the rim. As a result, the Gators’ offense stalled. Aside from Odunowo, who chipped in a layup, an old fashioned three-point play and three additional foul shots, Toler (12 points) was the only other player that scored in the period. The lead, once 42-26, was down to eight.
It was about that time Odunowo decided to take over. He began the quarter with a layup and followed that up with a two-handed slam that reinvigorated the home crowd.
“After that dunk, I was like, ‘This is too easy,’” Odunowo said. “So I just kept going back every time.”
No Gators player scored in the final 5:30 of regulation, and they did not need to. Odunowo converted another layup, prompting a Northeast timeout. Then he hauled in one of his nine offensive rebounds and went up strong for two more. Then came a smooth floater and another layup. The Eagles used another timeout.
Odunowo went on to score five more points in the last two minutes, putting the game out of reach and allowing Coughlan to empty his bench in the final moments. It was at that point that Odunowo’s walked off the Reservoir court for the final time, bringing memories him and the Gators will remember for years to come.
“From Day 1, I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself this year because him being here, it’s almost like I didn’t want to waste the year,” Coughlan said. “The first thing I saw from the start is that he’s a difference maker, and tonight he was.”
Reservoir (17-8 overall) — 70, Northeast (12-13) — 56
Re — Josh Odunowo 29, Aria Ameli 15, Kaden Toler 12, Victor McKoy 5, Jaylen Manning 4, KyJuan McCallum 2, JM Musser 2, Kaleb Glasper 1.
Northeast — Brandon Lebarron 14, Jaylin Albury 10, Keishon Thomas 10, Jaleel Petty 8, Brennen Volkman 8, Trent McNeill 4, Zion Cole 2.