Centennial boys basketball first built a 14-point second-half lead, then went down multiple times in the fourth quarter and finally — thanks to a pair of difficult shots from senior guard Matt Merkey in the final 90 seconds — pulled out a 64-60 victory at Howard on Thursday night.
With 1:25 to play and the Eagles down a deuce, Stafford Smith made a pass to Merkey on the right wing with the shot clock winding down. Not known as a scorer, and especially not as a long-distance shooter, Merkey had no other choice but to launch an attempt from a few feet beyond the three-point line. It was a rainbow-like shot but counted all the same once it finally fell from the sky and swished through the net.
“I knew it was in as soon as I saw him shoot it,” Smith said.
On the next possession, Merkey chased an errant shot from Ryan Hollwedel on the left side of the court, took one dribbled into the middle of the paint and banked in a shot before the two defenders guarding him could get their hand up.
Joey Sedlacko closed out the game with four free throws, helping Centennial (9-5 Howard County, 11-8 overall) bounce back from Wednesday two-point defeat against Reservoir.
“We believe in our guys, so I’m not surprised,” coach Chad Hollwedel said about Merkey’s baskets in the final moments. “They just fight, and when it’s not one guy, it’s another guy and what it’s supposed to be like for a team.”
Smith had the hot hand again on Thursday night, backing up a 25-point effort against Reservoir with 20 more against Howard (1-11, 5-13) to join Howard junior Justin Hendricks as the game’s high scorers.
Joey Sedlacko (13 points) and Ryan Hollwedel (10 points) were the other Eagles to finish in double figures, but Merkey (nine points), and Brandon Bonner (six points) also made crucial buckets late in the game.
Hendricks spearheaded Howard’s comeback by scoring 18 points after his team entered the break trailing, 32-24. The deficit was a result of a sloppy second quarter that followed the Lions hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 16 points in the opening frame. The second period, though, was filled missed 3-pointers and turnovers. The Lions totaled just eight points, one more than Smith scored during the frame.
Centennial’s advantage ballooned to 42-31 after a Smith layup midway through the third quarter, and coming out of a Howard timeout, it looked as though the Eagles would run away with a victory after Cameron Berkeley finished an old-fashioned three-point play.
However, this young Howard team — one with just two seniors — kept fighting, using its full-court press to force turnovers and score uncontested buckets in transition. In the final two minutes of the period, the Lions used two 3-pointers and three layups to construct a 12-2 run that cut the deficit to 47-43 at the third-quarter buzzer.
“We dug ourselves a hole and I think it took some energy to get back out of it,” Howard coach Seth Willingham said, “But our kids never quit. …This is one of the best teams I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
Tied at 47 with 6:30 to play, Smith silenced the raucous home crowd with a triple but could not keep the Lions’ faithful quiet for long. At the five-minute mark, Darrion Harris (16 points) gave Howard its first lead since the second quarter with a layup at the five-minute mark. And until the final seconds, the game was played within one possession. The Lions took their final lead with 2:47 to go, as a layup from Christian Rodgers put them ahead, 57-55.
On the verge of its second-straight defeat and fourth in its last five games, Centennial stayed patient and worked through its offense to find an open shot. It was not the optimal look, but the Eagles trusted Merkey, or anyone else who may have taken the shot, to come through.
“We were lucky to end up on the right side,” Hollwedel said. “But it was nice to see us pull out the composure when we lost the lead to take it back and finish.”
Centennial (9-5 Howard County, 11-8 overall) — 64, Howard (1-11, 5-13) — 60
C — Smith 20, Sedlacko 13, Hollwedel 10, Merkey 9, Bonner 6, Berkeley 3, Sams 2, Kefyalew 1.
Ho — Hendricks 20, Harris 16, Colbert 8, O’Connor 7, Rodgers 4, Williams 3, Kramer 2.
Halftime: 32-24, C
Atholton (12-2 county, 17-2 overall) — 73, Long Reach (2-11, 5-12) — 60
Thanks in large part to the Oates brothers, Atholton is one win away from earning at least a share of the county championship.
Junior Jordan Oates led all scorers with 16 points, while Justin Oates and Casey Parkins added 15 points apiece for the Raiders, who have won nine straight games. Their last loss came to Oakland Mills on Jan. 11.
Long Reach, which was led in scoring by Ramone Martin (15 points), has now lost six straight games.
A — Jordan Oates 16, Justin Oates 15, Parkins 15, Jackson 10, Murray 7, Daniel 5, Brown 3, Robinson 2.
LR — R. Martin 15, Carey 13, Haberern 11, Addo 7, Modeste 5, Wyche 4, Johnson 3, C. Martin 2.
Halftime: 43-25, A
Oakland Mills (11-3, 15-4) — 72, Marriotts Ridge (6-7, 10-8) — 51
It was not a typical night for reigning county scoring champion Daeshawn Eaton, but his 13 points against Marriotts Ridge were enough to place him in elite company.
Eaton became the third Howard County boys basketball player this season to score 1,000-career points, joining Wilde Lake’s Trea Keys and Mt. Hebron’s Brandon Prox.
In all, five players scored in double figures for Oakland Mills, which built an eight-point halftime lead before distancing itself from the Mustangs in the third quarter. The Scorpions, now winners of five straight, will travel to River Hill on Friday night for a matchup with huge seeding implications for the 2A South, Section I playoffs.
OM — Eaton 13, Norton 13, Riggs 11, Simpson 11, Eiland II 10, Gaymon 5, Evans 3, Hopkins 2, Parks 2, Fairbanks 2.
MR — Held 20, Miller 11, Olsufka 6, Tran 5, Lee 3, Cam Brown 2, Cole Brown 2, Page 2.
Halftime: 34-26, OM
River Hill (9-5, 14-6) — 59, Glenelg (2-10, 5-11) — 47
Just how good has River Hill’s defense been this season? Well, the Hawks have only allowed one county opponent to eclipse 60 points, and that came in the Hawks’ county-opening 61-56 loss to Wilde Lake on Dec. 7. They’ve since allowed 46.8 points per game against league opponents.
The Hawks were just as stout defensively Thursday night, holding Glenelg to under 50 points for just the second time this season. Carson Dick (18 points) got his offensively, but the Gladiators did not have anyone else in double figures.
Nick Marshall led the Hawks with 17 points.
RH — Nick Marshall 17, Okojie 10, Graves 8, Ryan Marshall 8, O’Brien 8, Feeney 6, James 2.
G — Dick 18, Koele 9, Owens 6, Piwowarski 5, Walsh 5, Chappell 2, Onwumbiko 2.
Halftime: 22-18, RH
Reservoir (10-5, 13-7) — 81, Mt. Hebron (7-7, 10-10) — 58
Entering Thursday night, Reservoir’s highest scoring total was its 75-point showing in a win over Old Mill on Dec. 19. Against county opponents, the Gators’ offense was at its best when it put 71 points on Wilde Lake on Jan. 11.
But against Mt. Hebron, Reservoir’s attack reached new heights thanks to red-hot shooting from three-point range. The Gators made 15 3-pointers on 22 attempts, good for an absurd 68.2 percent conversion rate. Meanwhile, they shot 42.4 percent (14-for-33) from inside the arc and 66.7 percent (8-for-12) from the foul line. Kaden Toler (16 points), Aria Ameli and Ryan Saunderson all hit three 3-pointers in the blowout victory. Even big man Josh Odunowo, who led the Gators with 19 points, hit his only attempt from distance.
The defeat snaps a four-game winning streak for Mt. Hebron, which received a game-high 23 points from Odell Dickerson.
Re — Odunowo 19, Toler 16, Ameli 9, McCallum 9, Saunderson 9, Glasper 6, McKoy 4, Manning 4, Ha 3, Barrett 2.
MH — Dickerson 23, Ryan Kinloch 12, Coleman 11, Bates 7, Crump 4, Josh Kinloch 2, Ichrist 1.
Halftime: 35-32, Re
Wilde Lake (10-3, 13-5) — 77, Hammond (2-12, 7-13) — 48
With its rout of Hammond, Wilde Lake stays in contention for a county title with three games left in the regular season.
The Wildecats have games against Glenelg and Centennial before playing Atholton on Feb. 22 for what might decide the league championship.
WL — Keys 22, Marshall 16, Boampong 12, Wright 12, Burris 4, Chamblee 4, Mitchell 3, Edmond 2, Ngande 2.
Ha — Henry 24, Wiggins 12, Addison 9, Mair 2, Allen 1.
Halftime: 34-24, WL