Oakdale’s Alex Hawkins went up strong, made a layup and drew a foul on Linganore’s Matt Schiller.
Almost in one motion, Bears coach Brandon Long whirled toward his bench and whipped his right arm to emphatically slap hands with assistant coach Ryan Brandenburg.
Hawkins made the ensuing free throw to give Oakdale a 15-point lead midway through the second quarter, finishing a three-point play created by an offensive rebound.
So while the fans who attended Tuesday’s game at Linganore took in a riveting fourth quarter that featured eight lead changes, the Bears’ work on the boards in the first half stood out for Long.
“Tonight, that was probably the most important thing,” Long said after Oakdale, which led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter, hung on for a 58-55 victory.
That’s because the Bears were operating against the likes of 6-foot-5 Cole Mitchell, 6-4 Kendall Johnson and the 6-4 Schiller, who in the first quarter swatted a driving layup attempt by Oakdale guard Tommy Kelly with such authority that a loud thump created by Schiller’s hand striking the ball could be heard throughout the gym.
Hawkins stands just 6 feet tall, but four of the sophomore’s six rebounds came on the offensive glass, and he scored three times in the low post. A Bears team that normally wreaks havoc with its full-court pressure, created turnovers off strong half-court defense in the first quarter as two steals by Bryant Palmer on back-to-back Linganore possessions led to four points. More importantly, the Bears (9-3) scored nine second-chance points in the first half to take a 32-21 halftime lead.
“They’re way bigger than us, so I knew I had to step up and help Ethan [Reifer] and everybody else who’s on the court with me,” said Hawkins, who scored a team-high 16 points.
Long sees him being most effective when he drives the lane, and the Oakdale coach has constantly been in the first-year varsity player’s ear about being more aggressive.
“He changes speeds — it’s deceptive and quick,” Long said. “So he comes up slow, and all of a sudden, it’s boom — first step, and he’s by you and gets to the rim.”
Fittingly, Hawkins sliced through the lane to break a tie with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining and give Oakdale the lead for good.
“Starting off throughout summer league, I wouldn’t drive and be as aggressive — or be as good as Coach knows I can be,” Hawkins said. “Really after the Middletown game [on Dec. 20], it started to all click ... that I could be scoring on my own.”
Chase Maddox, who scored all of Linganore’s 12 fourth-quarter points, split a pair of free throws with 20.4 seconds left to the cut the lead to one. However, the Lancers (10-3) had committed just four team fouls in the second half and couldn’t force Oakdale to go to the foul line until Jack McGaha (13 points) made two free throws with 6.3 seconds left. The Bears survived after a desperation NBA-range 3-pointer by the Lancers’ Francisco Palacios bounced off the rim.
“Anytime you’re down, you can quit,” Linganore coach Chris O’Connor said. “That’s easy. Our kids didn’t, which is good. It was a good high school basketball game.”
Thanks in large part to Maddox, Schiller and Palacios, the Lancers cut the Bears’ 11-point halftime lead down to one by the end of the third quarter. Maddox scored a game-high 20 points, Palacios followed with 15 points, and Schiller had 10.
“We came out flat, and they came out ready to roll,” O’Connor said. “And against a good team, we had to fight and claw and expend all of our energy to get back into the game. It’s frustrating that we didn’t play up to our capabilities.”
Linganore beat Oakdale 37-27 in the junior varsity game behind 19 points from Cole Stansbury. Will Rodriguez led the Bears with eight points.