After stumbling to a 4-4 pre-league-play record, defending Class 3A state champion Oakland Mills had plenty to prove in the league openerMonday night at Centennial.
Maybe that's why the Scorpions exploded to a 16-2 lead and early on looked like the team that totally dominated the league last year.
Oakland Mills, touted to win its fourth straight county title, held on for an 83-68 win over an aggressive and much-improved Centennial team. The Scorpions' win was much tougher than the final 15-point margin would indicate.
The Scorpions put together the 16-point run after Centennial's Charlie Stewart scored the first two points of thegame. Carruthers Gant (21 points), who led all scorers, sank three three-point shots for the Scorpions during that run, and Mark Terry (13 points) scored the other seven Oakland Mills points.
"Our good start was definitely the difference," Scorpions coach Dave Appleby said. "Our half-court trap took them out of their offense and hurt them (Centennial) at the start, but they fought back hard and really made us play hard. We got a little winded in the second half."
The Eagles closed the gap to five points, 53-48, midway through the third quarter. But they squandered five straight opportunities to get closer. Three turnovers, a blocked shot and a missed shot frustrated Centennial during one Oakland Mills scoreless spell.
Gregg Washington (17 points) then hit a jumper and Terry scored twice inside giving the Scorpions a 59-48 lead. A fall-away jumper by Chad Harris and a three-point shot by Charlie Stewart at the end of the quarter made it 59-53.
But Oakland Mills outscored Centennial, 24-15, in the final quarter.
The Eagles, after falling behind by 14 points, 72-58, made another run in the fourth quarter, pulling within eight points at 74-66.
But Stewart missed two three-point attempts and Sean Barth misseda three-point try during another scoreless spell for Oakland Mills.
The Scorpions then had a nine-point run to pull away at the end ofthe game and create a deceivingly lopsided final score.
"Gant buried us early and it was uphill all the way," Centennial's Harris said. "They moved the ball well, and it was hard to stop Gant early because we came out in our 2-3 zone."
The Eagles later switched to a box-and-one on Gant, and also played some triangle-and-two, some match-up zone and some man-for-man.
"Nothing really worked," Eagles coach Jim Hill said. "They still kept on scoring. We hit only 10-for-19 at the foul line in the first half, and we didn't convert several 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 fast breaks."
Hill also was frustrated at how many turnovers the Eagles made.
"It was easily 15 turnovers, but we never quit and we should be competitive with every other team," Hill said. "We really wanted to win this one, and we were too tight at the beginning."
The closeness of the game was no surprise to Appleby, whose team had lost two straight coming into Monday's game, an event re-scheduled from last Wednesday's snow-out.
"We expected a close game and Centennial was every bit as good as I thought they'd be," Appleby said. "This is the best Centennial team I've seen in five or six years."
Harris (14 points), Centennial's senior captain, played an outstanding all-around game. He also thought it would be close.
"We definitely thought they were beatable and we'd been playing well," Harris said. "But they were much quicker than any of the teams we hadplayed and it took us a while to adjust."
The Scorpions beat Centennial badly on the offensive boards in the first half, but the Eagles gradually improved their rebounding.
Oakland Mills sank six three-point shots, including four by Gant. Centennial hit just one three-pointer.
The Scorpions had five players score in double figures. In addition to Gant, Washington and Terry, Charlie Daniels scored 11 and Travis Williams, 12.
Centennial had four players score in double figures. In addition to Harris, Austin Groves scored 16, Damian Biggs, 11, and Stewart, 11.
Groves shot well at the foul line, converting 10-for-13. Biggs was 4-for-6 at the foul line.
The Eagles (6-3 overall, 0-1 league) had the best record in the county coming into Monday's game. They've beaten Westminster, Francis Scott Key, Bel Air, Franklin, C.M. Wright and Liberty, while losing to Watkins Mill andMcDonogh.
Oakland Mills is now 5-4, having lost to Thomas Johnsontwice, Loyola and Bel Air. They've beaten Gilman, Liberty, Quince Orchard and Linganore.