Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne retreated back into his press conference chair, 2A state championship in hand, and allowed himself a moment to take everything in.
As a lifetime Scorpion — one who grew up in Columbia, graduated from the school and has been a part of the boys basketball program in some capacity for the greater part of the last 20 years — it was no secret that he wore the weight of all those previous teams that had fallen short since the program’s only state title in 1990.
So, sitting there staring at the prize at the end of his long journey, Browne smiled, sighed and uttered the words that only seemed appropriate … “I’m exhausted.”
“Honestly, this is the culmination of a lot of efforts … Scorpion nation is very strong,” Browne said. “You know … I carry all those regional losses in my heart. This win is for all those guys that I’ve been head coaching for the last 10 years and, as an assistant, I was here twice with coach Dave Appleby we didn’t get it done then either.
“It’s validating for Oakland Mills … there was 40 years of people in those stands tonight.”
Oakland Mills (24-3) held off a spirited Patterson (22-6) comeback in the second half on Saturday at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center to earn itself a 64-55 victory and that crown many years in the making.
Four guys — Will Robinson Jr (26 points, 11 rebounds), Mamadou Ndiaye (15 points), Tre Hopkins (11) and Daniel Kiely (10) — scored in double figures and the Scorpions closed the game on a 15-5 run after falling behind for the first time all evening with 3:41 left in regulation.
That, though, has been the trademark of this year’s group, which found ways to prevail in each of its final three games in the final minutes after squandering double-digit second-half leads.
“That’s what these guys have been doing all playoffs, all season … you know, just persevering and finding ways to win the game,” Browne said. “I’m very proud.”
Robinson, who delivered seven of the points during the decisive push, echoed his coach’s words about thriving in the face of adversity.
“I don’t let the crowd, the lights and all that stuff get to me. It’s still basketball and you are supposed to do what you do best,” Robinson said. “So, you know, I have a great team and I just try to play by them … I’m supposed to be the guy, so I’ve got to do what I’m supposed to do”
Oakland Mills had seen its season end in the region championship game four of the last five years, but looked like a team unfazed by the big stage and seemingly on a mission at the onset in the title match-up against the Clippers.
Behind a mix of lay-ups from Hopkins and Kiely, along with a couple jumpers from Robinson, the Scorpions raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes. Patterson eventually settled in, led by the duo of Dereck Oliver (22 points) and Gary Blackston (18 points), but that early push carried the Scorpions throughout the opening half on the way to a 37-26 advantage at the break.
Patterson’s answer came in the third quarter in the form of a 12-3 run that got it all the way back within two, 40-38, in the first four minutes of the period.
Then, by the midway point in the fourth quarter following a lay-up by Richard Hibbert, the Clippers had their first lead of the game, 50-49.
“We challenged them at halftime and we made the run, which we seem to always do. The last three or four years we haven’t lost by double digits, so we are always going to make a run,” Patterson coach Harry Martin said. “It's just about then tightening up on some of those possessions down the stretch.”
With the game hanging in the balance, it was ultimately Oakland Mills that answered like a champion.
Robinson delivered a huge put-back basket and then, on the very next possession, Naquan Williams-Day and Hopkins combined for a steal and transition lay-up to put their team back ahead by three.
After that, in the final minute as the team tried to protect the lead it had grabbed back, the Scorpions made nine of 10 from the foul line to seal the deal.
Combined with Centennial’s victory over Westlake for the 3A state championship, this marks the first time in Howard County history that two boys basketball teams have won state championships in the same season.
Afterward the throng of Oakland Mills supporters, made up of a large contingent of alumni, hung around to celebrate with the team. For many of the players on this year's roster, who have had various ties to the recent Scorpions’ teams that fell short, the significance of the achievement hit home.
Kiely, for example, now has himself something to hang over the head over his older brother, Joe, who was part of the Oakland Mills teams in 2009 and 2010 that lost in the region finals.
“It kind of gives me something to brag about. I mean, their team was real good, but we have the state championship and they don’t,” Kiely said. “It’s kind of like a win for the school. It’s like we always had it in us, just maybe had bad luck (in the past), but now we’ve finally got it.”
Oakland Mills 64, Patterson 55
OM (24-3): Robinson Jr. 26, Ndiaye 15, Hopkins 11, Kiely 10, Harris 2.
P (22-6): Oliver 22, Blackston 18, Hibbert 5, Adams 4, Williams 4, Moore 2.
Half: 37-26 OM.