The hole was too deep to escape, the distance too far to overcome.
The Dundalk boys basketball team fell into an early 21-point hole against visiting Milford Mill in the Class 3A North region championship game on Friday and came back to make it a competitive game before falling 87-69.
The Owls twice cut the Millers’ lead to eight points and had an opportunity to make it a two-possession game.
“We spent so much energy to get back into the game that we did not have enough left in the tank to make the complete comeback,” Dundalk coach Steve Oppenheim said. “Basketball is a game of runs; the team with the most runs wins.”
Dundalk entered the fourth quarter still in the game, trailing 61-51. Three-pointers by Michael Johnson and Gates Cook, and a layup by Tayquan Busby trimmed Milford Mill’s lead to 67-59 with 5:30 remaining in the game.
A Milford Mill turnover gave the Owls an opportunity to make it a five- or six-point game. Instead, the game got away.
Busby scored on a layup, but was called for a charge that not only negated the score, but was his fifth foul.
A steal got the ball back for Dundalk, but the fast-break layup was missed. After another stop, the Owls missed two shots, were fouled, missed both free throws, got the offensive rebound, and missed another layup.
Milford Mill responded with an 8-0 run (six points coming at the foul line) to take a 75-59 lead with less than three minutes in the game and essentially clinch a spot in the state semifinals.
“They were in foul trouble like us,” Oppenheim said. “Should the game had been close, the plays we designed for their man defense would have been run and allowed us to take the game.”
The game got out of hand quickly in the first quarter. The Millers led 10-6 after the first three minutes, then went on a 21-4 run over the next six minutes to open up a 31-10 lead.
“We weren’t closing out on defense and there was a lack of execution on offense by rushing, taking poor shots and not running our plays,” Oppenheim said. “They did not do anything different than they had all year — man defense, outside shooting, same plays all around. They executed their plays and we did not.”
On the verge of being blown out of their home court, the Owls rallied.
A 17-4 run cut Milford Mill’s leads to 35-27 with three minutes remaining in the half. During the surge the Owls scored on six straight possessions while holding the Millers scoreless for over three-and-a-half minutes.
But, a wide-open three-pointer that would have made it a 35-30 game bounced out. The Millers recovered to take a 42-29 lead into halftime.
The Owls stayed in the game by outscoring Milford Mill 22-19 in the third quarter.
“Had our game plan been executed, the game would have been our game,” Oppenheim said. “Keeping it close would have allowed us to run some sets on offense and defense that we put in for this game.
“With such a large deficit, we could not exploit their weaknesses with those sets and had to play catch-up for the second and third quarters.”
Foul trouble also hurt the Owls, with two players fouling out (Busby and Will Fedd) and the Millers scoring 25 points at the foul line.
From the time Dundalk pulled to within 67-59 in the fourth quarter, 12 of the Millers final 20 points came on free throws.
Cook finished with 19 points, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter. Jaylon Johnson had 17 points and Michael Johnson scored 15.
Milford Mill had a slight edge in rebounding, 46-39.
The Millers were to play Thomas Johnson in the Class 3A state semifinals at the University of Maryland on Thursday.
This was the second year in a row the Owls’ season ended in the regional finals. Dundalk finished with a 20-6 record.
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