Sitting at the podium after Milford Mill boys basketball’s Class 3A state semifinals win on Thursday, coach Ryan Smith emphasized how last season prepared his team for this stage. He explained how the Millers took a step towards this moment a year ago by playing in the Baltimore County championship, when they suffered a double-digit loss to Perry Hall.
But to break through the 3A North region, which the program had not done since 2014, Smith thought they still needed to add a few pieces. More specifically, he believed bringing on two players with the same experience and hustle as his current roster would be enough to return to the state semifinals.
Enter Jordan Goodwin and Eric Turner. Both players transferred from St. Frances to Milford Mill before the season and have been two of the team’s best performers throughout the year. That was no different at Xfinity Center in College Park on Thursday. The senior guard duo combined for 34 points as the Millers held on to beat Thomas Johnson, 68-59, to advance to the state final for the first time since 2013.
“At the end of the year, I told our principal, ‘We need two guys,’” Smith said. “Did not have a clue where these two guys were going to come from, and lo and behind we got Eric and Jordan, and that sealed the deal for us.”
Senior guard Ugo Obasi (20 points) joined Turner and Goodwin in double figures for No. 7 Milford Mill (21-3), which will play No. 4 Poly in the state championship on Saturday at 3 p.m.
With neither Turner or Goodwin providing much scoring in the first half, the Millers relied on Obasi, their second-leading scorer at 15 points per game, for almost half of their offensive production before the break. He missed his first shot, a 3-pointer on one of the game’s first possessions, but went on to score the team’s first seven points and had 13 before halftime. That scoring punch helped the Millers stay with Thomas Johnson (23-4) until they found their offensive rhythm.
Holding a 15-11 lead after one period, the Millers went up seven on Obasi’s second long ball but could not maintain the comfortable cushion. Senior Braxton Foreman (17 points) and junior Richard Rivas (15) would not allow it. When they failed to knock down shots from long distance, they got to the foul line and converted their free throws. Their offensive prowess ensured Thomas Johnson would not enter the break down any more than 30-27.
But in the third quarter, Milford Mill seized momentum. After a quiet opening 16 minutes, Turner hit a turnaround jumper to start the period before nailing a 3-pointer to give the Millers a five-point advantage. Up, 40-34, midway through the frame, the Millers scored 10 unanswered points in a two-minute stretch.
All of the sudden, the Patriots’ deficit was 16 points.
“Third quarters have been tough for us for most of the year,” coach John Manley said, “and that’s been something we’ve tried to tell the guys. We’ve got to either stay even or try to win the third.”
Instead, Thomas Johnson was outscored, 22-16, in that crucial period, and it was only that close due to the Patriots’ 9-2 run to end the frame.
Down the stretch, Milford Mill struggled to pull away. Missed free throws and turnovers led to layups, put backs and free throws on the other end. The Patriots did not always hit their freebies — they finished 59.3 percent (16-for-27) from the foul line — but enough shots swished through the net to keep them within striking distance. They even got within 62-58 with about 90 seconds to play.
But Turner and Goodwin would not be denied the chance to close out their high school careers with a state title. The veteran pair scored the final five points as the Millers advanced to the state final for the 13th time in program history.
“I was just going with the flow of the game and knocking down shots,” Turner said. “When the ball came to me, I just had to make good decisions.”
Milford Mill (21-3) — 68, Thomas Johnson (23-4) — 59
MM — Obasi 20, Turner 20, Goodwin 14, Woods 6, Milton 5, Goodwyn 2, Park 1
TJ — Foreman 17, Rivas 15, Powe 12, Brooks 8, Giles 7.
Half: 30-27, MM
Reach Kyle Stackpole at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @kylefstackpole