By: Ryan Morse
After losing three seniors from its county championship-winning squad, the Old Mill boys basketball team has been searching for its identity with two goals in mind: protect the ball on offense and take it away on defense.
Slowly but surely the Patriots have been improving through their first five games, but in the finale of the James T. Bogle Invitational red bracket played at Glen Burnie High School, it all came together as Old Mill received 16 points from Tyrek Almaralis and 12 points apiece from Hollique Johnson and Mahzi Thames while stifling Broadneck in a 68-38 win on Thursday.
“Last year by this time we had already played nine games so right now we are still gelling,” Old Mill coach Mike Francis said. “We are still putting it together as far as rotation, but we just have to be defensive minded. Last year’s group lost three seniors that were really defensive minded and now we are just trying to get guys to step into that same mindset right now. We have been on our guys about using their hands and cutting down passing lanes, getting deflections and just layups on the other end.”
It was fair to say that the team was up to showing that mindset, particularly during the middle portions of the contest.
Leading 22-16 halfway through the second quarter, the Patriots switched to a 1-2-2 full court zone, giving the Bruins instant problems, leading to a handful of easy baskets off turnovers that sparked a 13-1 run to close out the half for a 35-17 lead at intermission.
In the third quarter, Old Mill took what was working and dialed it up a notch, scoring the first 19 points of the quarter while nearly shutting out the Bruins, save for a Michael Cantrell runner in the lane with 33 seconds left in the period. Jamar Young led the Bruins with nine points while Che Colbert and Brendan Davis each had six points.
“I give a lot of credit to Old Mill; they proved why they were the county champs last year,’’ Broadneck coach John Williams said. “It was a humbling experience. This is a young team and I look forward to seeing how they bounce back from this type of defeat.’’
Almaralis and Thames each had two steals in the game while Johnson, later named the red bracket MVP of the tournament, was a big part of the defensive effort, pulling down five rebounds and blocking four shots.
“We normally change up our defense on nearly every possession to see how teams are going to adjust to it,” Johnson said. “So we normally start in the 1-2-2 and work from there. Our chemistry is definitely there, but we need to keep our energy up and keep going throughout the season.”
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots showed their depth with 10 players scoring, but more importantly, they committed only 11 turnovers, half their normal average, showing signs of coming together to make another run at a county title and beyond.
“Each game we get a little better, we share the ball more, we get less turnovers,” Francis said. “We are starting to come together, it looks good now from where we are it just takes time. Last year we were undefeated in December. I’d rather be undefeated in February and March then December.”