An incredibly tight six-team county championship race got a little tighter yesterday.
In a game where fouls played a crucial role, Hammond came from 16 points down to upset league-leading No. 18-ranked Wilde Lake, 66-64.
The Bears (9-8 overall, 8-5 league) thereby moved within two games of Wilde Lake (13-4, 10-3) with five to play. Centennial is now tied for first place with the Wildecats. Oakland Mills is next at 9-4, and Long Reach, River Hill and Hammond are 8-5.
Sophomore guard Taj Murphy (22 points, four assists, four steals), who was 6-for-6 at the foul line and sank two three-pointers, was the catalyst for Hammond's comeback from an 18-2 first-quarter deficit.
Wilde Lake led 24-10 when the Bears went on a 20-0 run, with Murphy scoring 10 points during that stretch.
"Coach [Mark Murray] called timeout when it was 18-2 and told us we had the most heart of any team in the county," Murphy said. "He also told us we had to foul one of their big guys out."
The Bears eventually did that, sending Nyema Wilson to the bench with his fifth foul late in the third quarter. Wilson had 10 rebounds, nine of them in the first half.
"Jason Harriman [seven assists] drove to pick up the fifth foul on Wilson. It didn't matter which one, because they all can play, but we had to get one of them out of the game," Murray said, referring to David Martin, Jerome Parkinson and Wilson. "Talk about a three-headed monster."
Hammond also forced Wilde Lake point guard Chad Fawcett to the bench in the first half with two fouls during its 20-point run. Without Fawcett, Wilde Lake turned the ball over six times in the second period and shot a lowly 4-for-12 from the field, enabling the Bears to lead 32-27 at halftime.
Wilde Lake tied the game at 49-all with 40 seconds left in the third quarter after back-to-back three-pointers by Jeff Bright (16 points) and Fawcett. The Wildecats made seven threes, including three by Bright.
But Hammond's Vincent Plummer (12 points, five rebounds) made a layup to give the Bears a 51-49 lead after three quarters. It was one of six layups by Plummer in the second half as he kept getting open on the backside low post. Numerous layups accounted for Hammond's glittering 60 percent (23-for-39) shooting in the last three quarters.
Plummer made a layup to start the fourth quarter and Datren Awkward (15 points, four rebounds, four steals) scored on a fast break making it 55-49. Awkward scored five straight points after the Wildecats pulled to within three points with two minutes to play. Hammond led 64-56, and despite three-pointers by Will Johnson and Fawcett in the last 23 seconds, the Wildecats could not pull off a comeback.
Martin scored 15 points for Wilde Lake. In addition, he blocked eight shots, had eight rebounds and made five steals.
"They were quicker to the ball than us and just outplayed us," said Wilde Lake coach Lester Clay, whose team lost to the Bears for the second time this season.