For the final minute of the boys basketball game between Howard and Atholton, the two squads played a game of hot potato: Here, you take the victory. No, you take it.

With Howard leading, 69-67, in Wednesday night's game, each team squandered repeated chances to win until the Lions won almost by default, 72-69.

Howard (9-8 overall, 4-5 league) should have won the game handily at the foul line, but missed four one-and-ones in the final minuteand made only one shot apiece on two other one-and-ones. The Lions shot only 12-for-25 at the foul line for the game.

Howard also made a potentially critical turnover off an in-bounds play with nine seconds left that gave the Raiders a three-point shot that could have tied the game with four seconds left.

But Atholton missed four three-point shots and two 10-foot jumpers in the final minute. And theRaiders' star player, Jermaine Reynolds (27 points), fouled out with27 seconds left, creating a gaping hole in Atholton's offense.

Howard coach Rich Jenkins, whose team is sweating to make the Region I, Class 3A playoffs, breathed a huge sigh of relief after the win.His team trailed by scores of 8-0, 17-6 and 26-14 before Al Sutton (20 points) rallied the squad with an eight-point second quarter.

Jenkins' decision to begin a full-court press in the second quarteralso helped turn the tide.

"Our kids played hard and put a lot of pressure on," Jenkins said. "We have to press from here on out if we want to make the playoffs."

Before Wednesday's game, Howard was ranked fourth in the region behind Thomas Johnson, South Carroll and Oakland Mills, with Centennial in fifth place. The top six teams in the nine-team region make the playoffs.

"Atholton was scrappy and (David) Snyder (20 points) was tough inside," Jenkins said. "Our rebounding was better than it has been, and (David) Jones (nine points) did a nice job coming off the bench."

Jenkins had to be especially pleased to win -- one of his top offensive threats, Dax Mathews, scored just six points and shot 2-for-8 at the foul line.

On the other side, Atholton coach Jim Albert was shaking his headin disbelief at losing another close one.

"It's tough to lose another one like this," Albert said. "We've already lost by two points to Centennial, two to Oakland Mills and three to Wilde Lake."

The loss just about wiped out any playoff hopes Atholton (6-10, 3-6) might have had. The Raiders would have to win their last five gamesand still might not make it.

The same weakness that has plagued Atholton all season reared up again Wednesday.

"We just don'thave the experience and ability to bring the ball upcourt against pressure defense," Albert said. "We also got beat on the boards tonight."

It would have helped if starting point guard Kori Hunter hadbeen healthy. He sat out the first half with five stitches in his arm.

But when Howard shoots as well as it did Wednesday, hitting28-of-62 (45 percent) from the floor, including 16 outside jumpers, they are going to be tough to beat.

The Lions have an extremelydeep bench that allows them to press as much as they want. Their subs do not hurt them.

Lions guard Terry Troy produced one of his better offensive nights of the year, scoring 16 points and hitting the game-winning free throw with 41 seconds left. The shot put Howard ahead, 70-67.

Reynolds scored off a rebound with 29 seconds leftto make it 70-69. But he fouled out on the Lions' ensuing inbounds pass.

Troy hit another free throw for a 71-69 lead, and after Atholton's Chris Poe missed an open 10-foot jumper, Matthews scored Howard's final point with 15 seconds left.

Snyder and Brian Van Deusen (12 points) missed three-point shots in the final seconds for Atholton.

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