He had to wait until 9 p.m. on Thursday night, but Avion Robinson made the most of his first opportunity to play at Xfinity Center in the Maryland state tournament. Unfortunately, he will have to wait until next year for a second chance to do so.
Robinson led the Patriots with 21 points and four assists, but Old Mill struggled from the field and on the glass and was hurt by a glaring disparity in free throws in a 69-53 loss to Bladensburg in a Class 4A state semifinal.
“We just did not make shots like we wanted to in the first half,” Old Mill coach Mike Francis said. “They spaced the floor out extremely well and were able to hit shots. After we got into foul trouble, we just could not match up there at the end.”
Bladensburg, winners of five straight, will take on Perry Hall, the defending Class 4A state champion, Saturday at 8 p.m. The Gators advanced following an 85-62 victory over Gaithersburg. Bladensburg is looking for its first state title in 45 years.
After a timid performance in the opening minutes, the Patriots (22-5) responded, thanks mainly to Robinson, who had the hot hand early. He scored nine points in the first quarter and the teams traded leads several times before the Mustangs ended the first up two, 18-16.
“We just had to keep up the intensity and listen to what coach told us,” Robinson said.
The second quarter was a much different story. Old Mill could not make a shot, missing from inside, outside and even at the rim on multiple opportunities, making just two field goals in the period (2 for 14, 14 percent).
“We had scouted them since Saturday and had good film, but we just had big respect for Old Mill,” Bladensburg coach Antonio Willams said. “They played hard and we needed to bring it. We had to keep pushing and make sure we had more energy than they did. We could not stop.”
The Mustangs (15-12) went on a 14-2 run in the second and took a 10-point lead at the break. However, the Patriots, as they tend to do when trailing going into the second half, responded with pressure defense. Mahzi Thames and D.J. Turner were the catalysts, creating multiple turnovers that led to several easy baskets, as Old Mill went on a 12-3 run to start the second half. Thames was all over the court at both ends, and changed the narrative for a while, getting Old Mill within one. The Patriots trailed by five after three, 44-39.
“We were playing good defense, good help defense, and getting back,” said Old Mill’s Daevone Johnson, who had 10 points, seven rebounds and two steals. “We were getting steals and transition buckets, but then it all went downhill.”
The start of the fourth quarter was the key point. Daniel Oladapo, who led the Mustangs with 27 points and 11 rebounds, began to close it out for Bladensburg early in the quarter with an inside basket, followed by a 3-pointer to make it 51-39 with 6 minutes, 36 seconds to go. He added a free throw seconds later to give the Mustangs their biggest lead of the game, coming off an 8-0 run to start the fourth.
“I started off slow, but I just kept going and kept pushing my teammates,” Oladapo said. “I made an and-1 and got fired up and from then on it was just rock and roll.”
His assist on a Josh Williamson 3-pointer with 3:20 remaining gave the Mustangs a 15-point cushion and the crowd started thinking about Saturday night. Oladapo had 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“Once we cut that to two and they went back up, we were in trouble,” Francis said. “We weren’t worried about being down 10 at the half. We have been in situations like that before. We just did not make shots. They moved the ball well and found the open man.”
Thames had eight points and four rebounds and Hollique Johnson grabbed nine rebounds for Old Mill. Francis talked all season about his team playing an extra 96 minutes this season after falling in the region semis last year. They got two thirds of the way there, winning 14 straight to earn their place at College Park.
“We have not talked about that yet with the seniors, but we will,” Francis said. “We just came up a little bit short.”
The foul shot disparity was absolutely glaring. The Mustangs finished 25 for 37 from the foul line, with Old Mill shooting 2 for 3. Francis was professional and did not take the bait in the postgame press conference.
“We just did not attack the rim enough,” Francis said. “When we are settling for jump shots and three-point shots, that is going to keep those chances down.”
Bladensburg (15-12) 18 15 11 25 — 69
Old Mill (22-5) 16 7 16 14 — 53