With five minutes to play and the game tied, Howard County league-leading Wilde Lake was a team searching for answers yesterday.
The No. 18-ranked Wildecats had led by 13 points midway through the third quarter, but determined River Hill rallied behind the play of Kevin Steenberge, Alex Nowak and Matt McCathorine.
Wilde Lake finally answered with an effective full-court press and the accurate shooting of 6-foot-4 senior David Martin.
The press created a rash of turnovers, and Martin scored 11 points during a 15-0 Wilde Lake run that resulted in the visiting Wildecats' sixth straight victory, 66-55.
Martin, the county's leading scorer, finished with 30 points, including four three-point baskets. The Wildecats (12-3, 9-2) hit eight three-pointers in all, including three by Chad Fawcett and one by Jeff Bright.
"I couldn't believe they were leaving me open for the threes," Martin said. "We blew the lead, but then our press got them."
An aggressive Wilde Lake defense forced River Hill (6-9, 6-5) into 23 turnovers. Those turnovers, plus a poor-shooting (9-for-30) first half, dug a 32-21 halftime hole for the Hawks.
If not for nine rebounds that half by 6-4 junior Nowak (13 points), who had 11 for the game, the Hawks would not have been that close. Steenberge, a 6-8 sophomore, picked it up on the boards in the second half to finish with 12 rebounds and 22 points.
"Our brains were fried from final exams today and our heads just weren't in it," Steenberge said. "We made stupid mistakes and weren't running our in-bounds plays. It's tough to lose after coming back like that."
Martin made two three-pointers early in the third quarter, and his basket from the corner made it 40-27 before River Hill started its rally. Steenberge tied it at 49 on a fast-break layup following a Wilde Lake turnover.
"After we started making some shots in the second half, we were able to get into our press," Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen said.
Wilde Lake made 18 turnovers and had some trouble attacking a 2-1-2 River Hill zone, but its eight three-point baskets eventually broke down the zone.
Wildecats coach Lester Clay was unhappy with his team's overall play.
"We're weren't playing basketball the way I know it should be played," he said. "We threw it away at bad times and took shots we shouldn't have taken. And we weren't playing our press well in the first half. We were playing in some other stratosphere."