The deck was stacked against Howard yesterday.
Entering their matchup with league front-runner o. 17 Atholton, the Lions were 2-3 in the Howard County league and were without leading scorer Ronnie Mann, who was sidelined with a cut to his shooting hand.
Despite the odds, Howard produced its best effort this season and defeated the visiting Raiders, 58-56.
The Lions did it with a well-balanced, patient offense, smart ball-handling, superior quickness, a well-chosen defense, and strong rebounding and shooting (25-for-52, 48 percent).
Howard coach Marvin Thorpe, wary of Atholton's superior height and inside strength, especially 6-foot-4 center Jonas Vaitkus, selected a 2-3 zone to try to clog the middle and prevent Vaitkus from handling the ball more than necessary.
It worked. Vaitkus scored 13 points but was held to five rebounds as the Raiders (5-1 in Howard County) were forced to shoot outside, where Craig Sauers picked up the slack with 18 points.
"You can't let Jonas [Vaitkus] get second shots," said Thorpe. "Defense and boxing out is where we won it. This was a must-win for us and I knew we could win it. Atholton doesn't have that kid who can drive to the hoop and split the zone."
Trailing 8-7 in the first quarter, Howard went on a 12-point run and never trailed again. Point guard Anthony Bogues Jr. scored three times during that run, twice on drives and once on a fast break. He finished with a team-high 14 points and a season-high six steals.
"I knew they like to run backdoor cuts and screens and was reading their passes," said Bogues, the nephew of former NBA player Muggsy Bogues and a junior whose varsity debut last season was in a 62-59 upset of Atholton.
Atholton cut the deficit to two points at halftime with a seven-point run, but Howard started the second half with a nine-point spurt to lead 40-29.
Atholton closed to two points again with 17 seconds left on a put-back by Andrew Zavage (12 points, eight rebounds), but Howard ran out the clock.
"We aren't disappointed with the way we played other than the first quarter," said Raiders coach Jim Albert. "Howard just made the plays. They made shots you might want them to take."