For the second straight game, Oakland Mills’ 6-foot-9 senior superstar, Greg Whittington, found himself on the bench early after picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter.
And for the second straight game, the Scorpions’ supporting cast stepped up.
With Whittington riding the bench, Kerry Bethea (15 points) and Joe Kiely (13) took over the Oakland Mills offense. The duo combined to score 28 of the team’s 55 points, helping the Scorpions triumph, 55-42, in a tight one against the fourth-seeded Frederick Douglass Eagles.
“We will take that any day of the week,” said Oakland Mills head coach Jon Browne. “That was a good win for us.”
It was a win that brought the Scorpions to 25-0. It was a win that leaves them just three victories removed from a state championship.
But it was not a pretty win.
The Scorpions started Wednesday’s game uncharacteristically slow on both sides of the ball. Even with Whittington in the game early, Oakland Mills struggled.
Whittington picked up his second foul of the game with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter, sending the big fellow to the bench. At that point, the Scorpions were already down 7-4.
And with Oakland Mills’ enforcer riding the pine, the Eagles took advantage, finishing the first quarter on a 6-2 run.
The Scorpions trailed 13-6 mainly because of Frederick Douglass’s Timmone Whatley, who exploded with 10 points in the first quarter – including three 3-pointers.
Whittington returned to the game in the second, though the quarter belonged to Bethea. The often overly emotional forward took over, scoring seven points in the quarter to rally the Scorpions back into contention. Oakland Mills outscored the Eagles 15-8 in the second quarter, resetting the game at 21-21 entering halftime.
“To be tied at the half, I was ecstatic,” Browne said.
He then watched his team begin the third quarter on a 10-0 run, one that included four points from Bethea, four from Whittington and a layup from Marcellus Ajiboye.
Ajiboye finished the game with six points.
The third quarter was all Whittington’s. He went off for 12 points in the quarter, and the Scorpions opened up a big 13-point lead, 39-26.
Browne said he'd given one simple message to his foul-plagued big man at halftime.
“Just play smart,” Browne said he told Whittington. “Don’t make any stupid plays, and we will be fine.”
Whittington listened and Oakland Mills benefitted. With his size on the court, the Scorpions are a completely different basketball team.
“We are not a one man team,” Browne said. “We never have been. But when the big guy needs to take over, he can.”
Whittington finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with eight rebounds, five blocks and three steals – all despite missing 5 minutes and 25 seconds' worth of game-time while in foul trouble.
With Whittington playing at a high level, the Scorpions were able to cruise. Their defense finally began to slow the Eagles’ attack. Oakland Mills allowed just one Frederick Douglass field goal in the third, a 3-pointer that went through the hoop with just 12.1 seconds left in the quarter.
Oakland Mills held off the Eagles in the fourth quarter, matching Frederick Douglass point for point.
Kiely scored seven of his 13 points in the game’s final eight minutes, helping seal the undefeated Scorpions' 25th victory of the season.
With the win, Oakland Mills advances to the 2A South regional finals, where they will face off against the third-seeded Gwynn Park Yellow Jackets.
“Part of me was secretly rooting for Gwynn Park, because March 6 is fresh in my memory,” said Browne, referring to last year’s playoff loss, which, coincidentally, came in the 2A South region final, 79-75.
“We let that one slip away, and it would give me some satisfaction to make up for last year,” Browne said.
Said Whittington: “It will be a great battle.”
Oakland Mills (55):
Whittington 19, Bethea 15, Kiely 13, Ajiboye 6, James Peters 2
Frederick Douglass (42):
Glover 14, Whatley 13, Davis 9, Cunningham 5, Johnson 1