When looking at the top of the Howard County boys basketball standings, everything was nip and tuck, with four teams going into last night's play with just one league loss.
That changed quickly with Atholton's visit to Long Reach.
With start-to-finish intensity on defense and a hot-shooting second quarter that provided an insurmountable cushion, the Raiders had a stunningly easy time in a 75-45 victory over Long Reach, ending the Lightning's 30-game home winning streak that dated to the team's 2005-06 state championship season.
Junior guard Shane Brown led a balanced Raiders offense with 16 points, while senior guard Deyon Cook added 14 and senior center Anthony Jones scored the team's first 10 points and finished with 11. The Raiders (10-3) improved to 9-1 in league play, while the Lightning (10-2) lost its second straight county game to go to 8-2. Howard and Marriotts Ridge both prevailed last night to remain with one loss.
While the Raiders got points from nine players and hit 11 of 16 field-goal tries in a pivotal 26-point second quarter that gave them a 38-21 halftime lead, coach Jim Albert was most impressed with his team's work when the Lightning had the ball.
"Going in, I thought defense was going to be the difference in the basketball game, and I think our kids played super. To hold a team like Long Reach under 50 points - I'm very pleased with that, and I think that probably was the difference," he said.
Taking a one-point lead into the second quarter, the Raiders assumed control with a combination of strong inside play and fine shooting from the perimeter, closing out the half on a 13-0 run. During the run, Cook hit a long three-pointer and was fouled for a four-point play, and Brown also made a three.
"We knew Long Reach is going to come out extra strong, we knew they were going to give us a fight, so we had to come out and give it a fight, too," Brown said. "We hit our shots over and over, played hard and did what we had to do."