River Hill boys basketball knows, perhaps better than a lot of teams, the importance of coming out strong in the second half. Just six days ago, in the Class 2A South final against Thomas Stone, the Hawks began the third quarter on a 13-0 run they carried until the final buzzer to secure their first region title in more than a decade.
But the script flipped in River Hill’s 62-48 state semifinal loss to North Caroline on Friday night. Leading, 28-27, at the break, the Hawks allowed three unanswered 3-pointers in as many possessions, allowing North Caroline to build a comfortable lead it maintained with timely long-distance jumpers and near flawless free throw shooting down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the Hawks (21-5) attempted six fouls shots, shot 13 percent (3-for-23) from behind the arc and committed 19 turnovers.
“We did a lot of uncharacteristic things,” coach Matt Graves said. “Our turnovers weren’t good, a lot of quick possessions. We did build a little bit of momentum to kind of fight back … but they hit some threes that kind of took the wind out of our sails and they made free throws.”
The Hawks also had no answer for Joey Adams in the final two periods after the senior guard, who averages 24 points per game, scored just seven points in the opening half. Adams (game-high 29 points) exceeded that total in the first five minutes in the third quarter alone and scored 11 in the period. And with North Caroline holding a 41-33 advantage entering the fourth, he drilled another long ball before icing the game by hitting his last eight foul shots.
The Bulldogs advance to the Class 2A state championship, where they will play Lake Clifton in a game set for 6 p.m. at Xfinity Center in College Park.
River Hill received a combined 32 points from their senior guard duo of Jacob Krause and Jaden Martin, though each player underwent their own struggles. Krause usually shoots 42 percent from three-point range but made one of his seven shots from deep on Friday night. Martin missed each of his four 3-pointers and committed nine turnovers, many of which came on traveling calls with the Hawks trying to mount a second-half comeback.
“Shots weren’t falling, and you’re going to have days like that,” Martin said. “And we just had to find another way to score, and we just couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
“Our effort was there for most of the game,” Krause added. “We just couldn’t finish shots and finish possessions.”
Martin and Krause mentioned the nerves associated with playing in the state semifinals, a stage this program has not been on since winning its lone state championship in 2007. But those feelings disappeared shortly after tip-off. Martin scored River Hill’s first basket of the game and scored twice more before the end of a first quarter in which the Hawks led, 13-11. Then came a 9-4 run for Graves’ team, which included a layup from senior Luke Champion (nine points), a rare 3-pointer, courtesy of senior Josh Mann, and back-to-back buckets for Krause. The Hawks’ seven-point advantage was their largest of the game.
River Hill was carving up the North Caroline with quick passes, both to the free throw line for quality midrange attempts and to the wings on the perimeter for open looks. But the Hawks also gave the ball away in places that allowed the Bulldogs to get out in transition. They also allowed several offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Those miscues, more so than their lack of shooting success, resulted in the Hawks’ lead dwindling to one by halftime.
Then came the barrage of contested 3-pointer jumpers. Adams hit two of these shots — both with a hand in his face — while senior David Bailey (nine points) confidently pulled up and swished a long ball as well. In less than two minutes, River Hill trailed, 36-28.
“In Howard County, there’s nobody shooting like that,” Martin said. “When you have three guys on their team taking one dribble and pulling up, your hand is there, but good offense beats good defense.”
River Hill faced an uphill battle from there, and despite threatening to mount a comeback at times, it could not string together enough baskets or defensive stops to pull within one possession. It then began fouling, only to see Adams convert again and again from the free throw line.
Eventually, with the Hawks’ deficit deemed insurmountable, Graves abandoned the fouling tactic and accepted his team would taste defeat for just the fifth time in 26 games this season.
“They put River Hill back on the map,” Graves said of Martin and Krause, two of the team’s nine seniors. “They brought us back to life. They put River Hill where it needs to be, representing Howard County, and I thought we did a good job.
“Unfortunately, like Jaden said, North Caroline was the better team tonight.”
North Caroline — 62, River Hill (21-5) — 48
RH — Martin 18, Krause 14, Champion 9, Mann 3, Daniels 2, Okojie 2.
Half: 28-27, RH
Reach Kyle Stackpole at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @kylefstackpole