For the defending Class 3A state champion Poly boys basketball team, Saturday’s bid to repeat came down to defense against Milford Mill.
One stop with 16 seconds left to protect a two-point lead.
Coach Sam Brand never had a doubt.
Poly defensive stopper Cleveland Horton closed off the Millers’ first option — getting the ball to senior standout Jordan Goodwin — and then two Engineers converged to disrupt point guard Ahmed Milton’s drive to the basket. Milton’s bounce pass across the lane went through the legs of a Miller as the Engineers scrambled to gain possession as the buzzer sounded.
With a 20-point, 12-rebound performance from sophomore Justin Lewis, 17 points from All-Metro senior guard Demetrius Mims and the decisive defensive stop, the No. 4 Engineers claimed a thrilling 49-47 win over No. 7 Milford Mill at Maryland’s Xfinity Center.
Brand had reassurance in the team huddle during a timeout before the closing possession.
“I asked them what wins basketball games and a couple guys yelled out, ‘Defense,’ and a couple said, ‘Rebounds.’ I said, ‘Well, we needed both,’ and we finished with both,” he said. “When these guys lock in on defense … we’re a team that has made it really hard for opposing teams to score and they made it very hard on that last possession. I’m really proud of them.”
Never known as a basketball power in Baltimore City, Poly has established itself as a dominant force. Two years ago, the Engineers won the city championship. Last year, they won their first state title. And this season, they swept both, playing a demanding regular season to prime for the task and finish 22-6.
Mims, who earned a scholarship to Long Beach State, closed out a four-year career as the program’s all-time leading scorer. He never had any doubt about Saturday either.
“Since my freshman year, they’ve preached to me, ‘Our family vs. your team,’ and I bought into that since day one,” he said. “I just stayed with the program and grew with it, so these last two years have been very fun for me — playing on the biggest stage and winning on the biggest stage.”
On Saturday, it didn’t come easy because of the Millers’ poise. Behind Lewis and Mims, the Engineers rushed out to a 21-9 lead after one quarter and appeared too much for the Millers to handle.
But the Millers settled down and threatened to overcome the Engineers a number of times in the second half.
After Goodwin, who finished with a team-high 15 points, buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 35-32 with 2:16 to play in the third quarter, the Engineers answered.
Sophomore point guard Rahim Ali and senior guard Seth Jones answered with 3-pointers — Jones’ coming at the buzzer to put the Engineers’ lead back up to 41-33 going into the fourth quarter.
They would pad the lead to 44-33 with 6:44 to play before the Millers made their final run, making up ground with baskets from Ugo Obasi (13 points) and Eric Turner (10 points) as well as a 3-pointer from Goodwin. When Milton sank two free throws with 49 seconds left, the Engineers’ lead was at 49-47.
After Ali missed, the Millers (21-4) had the ball and called timeout. But Milford Mill wasn’t able to add to the program’s six titles.
“I explained to the boys in the locker room that that’s basketball. When you play long enough, you win close games and you lose close games,” Milford Mill coach Ryan Smith said. “We didn’t execute like we wanted at the end and we didn’t shoot foul shots. But they gave me everything they had and that’s the only thing I ask for as a coach. We scrapped all the way back from down 10, down 11 and they gave me everything in practice and in the game.”
MM—Obasi 13, Goodwin 15, Turner 10, Milton 4, Park 5. Totals: 18 5-12 47
P — Mims 17, Lewis 20, Ali 4, Walker 5, Jones 3. Totals: 15 16-23 49
Half: P, 29-19