Meade knew what it was dealing with before the clock started. Longtime basketball coach Mike Glick called Old Mill “the team to beat.”
But like two teams before them, the Mustangs were unable to be the ones to bring the Patriots down. Led by senior Avion Robinson’s scoring spree, Old Mill kept its winning streak untouched, deftly dropping Meade 73-54.
Robinson totaled 36 points – including 13 in the third quarter, a frame that practically ensured the Patriots (3-0) their victory.
It would be a career night for most players. Robinson, though, isn’t most players. When he’d walked on the floor to warm up with his teammates, a T-shirt clouded his jersey. His number, 24, was hardly visible, and yet, when he passed a pair of Meade students, one said, knowingly, “That’s their best player.”
“He scored 40 the first night we played,” Old Mill coach Mike Francis said. “The bigger the game, the bigger he plays.”
Judging by the final score, it’d appear Old Mill had blown its rivals out. But if basketball were only played two quarters, it would have gone to overtime. The Mustangs (2-2) screeched from the start on the wheels of senior Tre Dunn, who hit a crowd-pleasing dunk with an ease that made it clear it wouldn’t be his last dunk of the night.
Senior Mazhi Thames, opening his own 30-point performance, followed up his teammate with a 3-pointer to put Meade up 5-0. Moments later, Dunn would slam another dunk.
Despite the showmanship, though, Old Mill wasn’t rattled, its senior-clad defense already proving difficult for a younger Mustangs squad to handle. The Patriots lurched to a 15-9 lead at the first timeout, the result of speedy production after rebounds, accurate shot-making and forcing turnovers.
“We’re two-time defending county champs, region champs. That stuff doesn’t bother us,” Francis said. “Not the guys who’s been here before.”
And it was only the beginning. The Patriots edged Meade after the first, 15-12.
Meade’s apex offense arrived at the top of the second quarter. Dunn, naturally, opened the frame with a dunk, followed by a layup from sophomore TJ Speight, which handed the Mustangs the lead. At the same time, Meade had shored up its defense in the paint, holding the hosts to a scoreless, three-minute drought.
Given what would happen next, it wouldn’t matter in the game. But Glick has his eyes on January, February. All 32 minutes on Friday could do was build experience for his colts.
“The better team won tonight, but we’ve got two and a half months to get better ourselves,” Glick said. “Experience, we’ve just got to get the kids experience.”
Robinson brought the rain to end the Patriot drought with a 3-pointer, followed by a pair from Kanari Smith (10 points). Before long, Old Mill had bounced back, though two made free throws from Thames would tie things up at 30 at halftime.
But in the next eight minutes of game-play, everything changed.
“Third quarter, we just switched defense to zone, forced them to take off shots and we were able to rebound,” Francis said. “We built a little lead on them.”
With, yes, another Dunn dunk, Meade struck first after the break. But the Mustangs’ leading scorers were finding themselves hustled by a heavy zone defense, and with Thames and Dunn buffered, the Mustangs were unable to get a scoring string going.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were ready to explode.
When the ball was in Robinson’s hands, the senior charged through would-be defenders like he was the only one on the court, adding a baker’s dozen to his Patriots’ score before the end of the quarter.
“I just feel like my team needed me to do extra, so that’s what I did,” Robinson said.
Daevone Johnson (20 points) hit a pair of layups to add to the onslaught, and with five minutes down in the third quarter, the Patriots had stacked an 11-point lead.
Things were getting away from the Mustangs, and they wouldn’t come back. Old Mill cruised into the final frame with a tidy 51-35 lead.
“We started with our defense,” Francis said. “Once we were able to force turnovers, score in transition, that was our best offense of the night.”
It was possible the Mustangs could have erased the deficit if their shooters revved up and their guards neutralized Robinson. Instead, the senior guard rattled off another 3-pointer, grinning as he escaped the three Mustangs attempting to block him.
Compared to the third quarter, it was a lower-scoring period for the Patriots, but they’d done what they needed to do. They’d nurse their double-digit advantage to the very end, even as Thames contributed 16 of his team’s 19-point effort in the last eight minutes.
Old Mill faces a seismic challenge next week in top Howard County foe, Reservoir, but the prospect doesn’t faze the Patriots’ leading scorer. Nothing fazes him, Francis said.
“I’m ready for every game,” Robinson said.