Hammond didn't pick up much in the way of style points on Saturday, being held to its second lowest point total of the season, but the Golden Bears ultimately did enough to back up the team's biggest win of the season against Oakland Mills three days earlier with a 53-47 victory over visiting Centennial.
Brandon Willis scored a team-high 17 points and Hammond (13-2, 15-3) won its seventh straight county game to secure no worse than a second-place finish in the league standings this winter.
"I was pleased with the effort, because that was my big concern coming off the Oakland Mills game. Just clearly we did not shoot the ball well," said Hammond coach Mike Salapata, whose team had defeated first-place Oakland Mills, 68-66, on Wednesday. "We built ourselves a nice lead up to 17 in the third quarter and then flat out stopped playing. Playing with a lead is something we still need to work on.
"But the effort ultimately is what pulled us through today."
Centennial (9-6, 11-7), which came all the way back to trim its deficit to two points on two different occasions in the final minute of regulation, was led by Tom Brown's 17 points.
While the fourth-quarter surge was something positive to draw upon, Eagles' coach Chad Hollwedel said he was overall disappointed — particularly with his team's offensive execution.
"We came in here and fought really hard in the first half to hold them to 24 points and then didn't execute down on the other end. We didn't reward ourselves for that hard work and then got sloppy and disjointed in the third quarter," Hollwedel said. "It's just not good enough, not at this stage of the season and not against a team like Hammond."
In the opening minutes, it was Centennial that grabbed the early advantage. A lay-up by Kaleb Addisu, followed by back-to-back lay-ups by Brown, staked the Eagles to a 6-2 lead and resulted in Salapata making whole-sale substitutions just over two minutes in.
It was the Golden Bears' second unit that provided a spark, though. Jonathan Aja scored seven points as part of a 12-1 run that put Hammond ahead by seven.
"The starting five came out flat and we did the 5-for-5 Kentucky-style substitution and it actually worked this time. We got some great minutes there," Salapata said. "I thought that woke up our starters up, too, and it helped us play really well in those second and third quarter. Our defense during that stretch in particular was some of the best we've played in quite a while."
Hammond led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and then 24-18 at the half. Then in the third quarter, as Willis and Terrell Lamar got going, the Golden Bears extended things out to their largest advantage of the night, 41-24.
But before Hammond put the game away, Centennial began chipping away. Javon Smith provided some big baskets to provide a spark near the end of the third quarter and that carried over into the fourth as the Eagles strung together a 16-2 run to pull within three, 43-40, with three minutes left.
Two minutes later, it was a Brown three that made it a two-point game, 47-45. Willis knocked down a jumper on the next possession for Hammond, but Michael Merkey answered for Centennial to make it 49-47 with 28 seconds left.
Ultimately it came down to foul shooting and the duo of Matt Johnson and Jarvis Doles combined to go 4-for-4 down the stretch to create the final margin of victory.
"Our biggest focus right now is on figuring out how to play with fourth quarter leads, because these last two games we've had double-digit leads that we've let slip away to the point where we were tied the other night and then only up two today," Salapata said. "We've got to work on that, but all things considered I think that we are trending in the right direction toward the tournament."
Hammond 53, Centennial 47
Ha (13-2, 15-3): Willis 17, Johnson 9, Lamar 7, Aja 7, Doles 6, Gordon 5, White 2.
C (9-6, 11-7)): Brown 17, Smith 7, Merkey 5, Addisu 5, Hohmann 4, White 4, Fant 3, Fowler 2.
Half: 24-18 Ha.
Oakland Mills 81, Glenelg 53
The Gladiators played the Scorpions tough for a half, sitting tied 30-30 at the break, but Oakland Mills kicked things into another gear in the second half to earn the convincing victory. Naquan Williams-Day (24 points) and Daniel Kiely (21) led the way offensively for the Scorpions.
Trevor Winn (15 points) was the lone player in double figures for the Gladiators.
OM (15-1, 17-2): Williams-Day 24, Kiely 21, Aaron 18, T. Hopkins 6, Campbell 4, Estep 3, Smith 3, Rondon 2.
G (8-7, 9-9): Winn 15, Walsh 7, Wade 6, Mills 6, Piwowarski 5, Koele 5, Coburn 4, Currie 3, Powell 2.
River Hill 44, Atholton 41
The Hawks trailed early, falling behind 14-8 at the end of the first quarter, but battled back to take a halftime lead and ultimately hold on down the stretch for the team's second straight win. Jaden Martin led the way with 11 points.
Atholton had a chance to tie in the closing seconds, as Jacob Waterworth was fouled on a 3-point attempt. But his tries from the foul line were off the mark and the Hawks earned the victory. Noah Mendelsohn was the leading scorer for the Raiders with 11 points of his own.
RH (4-11, 5-13): Martin 11, Krause 10, Clark 6, Hraky 5, Mitchell 4, Daniels 4, Robinson 2, Ndiritu 1, DeSimone 1.
A (6-9, 9-9): Mendelsohn 11, Mason 8, James 7, Rodgers 5, Waterworth 3, Myers 3, Jackson 3, Rankin 1.
Half: 19-17 RH.
Wilde Lake 71, Howard 62
WL (4-11, 4-14): Stubblefield 23, Cantwell 15, Ichrist 13, Greene 7, Barnes 7, Samuels 2, Boateng 2, Robinson 1.
Ho (9-7, 12-7): Greene 23 Shuart 12, Blanco 8, O'Malley 5, Hawkins 4, Haskins 4, Ajayi 4, Scaife 2,