When Mervo took on Milford Mill in the third annual Baltimore Hoops Festival at St. Frances, there was some familiarity between the schools.
For the Mustangs, coach Deron Harding had scouted Milford Mill, but even more than that, the teams met in this tournament last year. Mervo raced to a 20-point lead before letting the Millers rally to win, and the Mustangs did not want a repeat of that.
This time, Mervo used a variety of zones to slow the Milford Mill offense while 6-foot-9 forward/center Elijah Rantin finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and point guard Demonee Carter added 21 points and seven assists in a 70-57 victory Saturday night.
Milford Mill (3-3) likes a fast-paced style, and the game started quickly with Mervo (3-4) taking a 21-18 lead after the first quarter. But the Mustangs began using different zone defenses, which stopped the Millers from turning the game into a track meet.
“We saw when we scouted them that they had trouble shooting from the perimeter,” Harding said. “We knew our length …would bother them.”
Rantin often stretched his long arms out as did forward Rico Lang (6-6, nine points, 10 rebounds). In fact, the two combined for 22 rebounds and often made it tough for the Millers to get the ball inside when the Mustangs used their zones.
Milford Mill coach Ryan Smith said his team is young and learning in different ways and needed to do better with ball movement against these zones. The Millers often picked up their dribbles and got caught in tough situations – a big reason their offense slowed after the fast start.
“We just can’t hold the ball against the zone,” Smith said. “[You need to] move the ball and move harder.”
The Millers made seven baskets in the first seven minutes but only 13 the rest of the way as Mervo stuck with the zone defenses and repeatedly changed up with it.
On offense, the 6-foot-9 Rantin often set up in the low post while the 6-foot-6 Lang stayed up high, and Milford Mill struggled to stop them. Lang did a good job of getting the ball down low a number of times and always seemed to be around the ball, a big reason he nearly pulled off a double double.
Rantin scored 12 in the first quarter, usually layups or followups, and Lang assisted him three times. Corey Petergan (15 points) added seven points in the second quarter as the Mustangs took a 35-29 halftime lead.
The Millers cut the lead to 36-35 on a jumper from Jermaine Goodwyn (21 points) with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, but Mervo quickly took over.
Rantin answered with a follow just 16 seconds later before Carter completed a three-point play. The Mustangs stretched the lead to 48-38 after three quarters, and Milford Mill never got close again.
Still, the loss from last year bothered Mervo and drove the team in this game.
“I didn’t want it to happen again,” Rantin said.
Carter said the team began looking harder at getting the ball down low after struggling early with their longer shots. That strategy paid off as the Mustangs repeatedly found high-percentage shots in or near the lane.
“Our jumpers weren’t falling, so we starting looking inside,” Carter said. “It helped a lot.”
Deonta Dunlap added 17 points for Milford Mill, and DeShawn Johnson had 11. The Millers struggled at the free-throw line, making only 8 of 19.
Even though this was just a tournament game, Harding made it clear that it meant a lot to everyone involved with his program because of what happened last year.
“The kids wanted it,” he said. “The coaches wanted it. A win like this is [big].”
The earlier games of the day saw St. Maria Goretti top Hill School (Pa.), 58-42. Edmondson defeat Gerstell Academy, 64-55; No. 11 McDonogh edge City, 46-55; and No. 7 Boys’ Latin beat Admiral Farragut Academy (Fla.), 66-61.
Mervo 70, Milford Mill 57
MM- Johnson 11, Dunlap 17, Goodwyn 21, Teah 2, Woods 6. Totals: 20 8-19 57.
ME- Carter 21, Petergan 15, Wilson 2, Lang 9, Rantin 21, T. Newman 2. Totals: 24 19-26 70.
Half: ME, 35-29.