The game was less than a quarter old Friday night and Old Mill coach Paul Bunting wasn't contemplating winning or losing.
Exiting the gymnasium was his first thought.
"Holy cow, I'm surprised you guys stuck around after five minutesof the first quarter. I was ready to leave," he joked to a group of reporters after the visiting Patriots had hung on to defeat Northeast, 69-64, in a less-than-picturesque effort.
Had Bunting departed, he would have missed an Old Mill resurgence that enabled it to build a 16-point lead midway through the third quarter. Of course, he also could have spared himself the horrendous free-throw shooting down thestretch that nearly permitted Northeast (9-3) to overcome a 10-pointdeficit in the final two minutes.
"Give Northeast credit, they'rea good team," Bunting said.
So is Old Mill (10-3), but neither side looked it during the first quarter, when the teams shot a combined 6-for-36 from the floor and the Patriots held a 10-5 lead.
While the Eagles continued to misfire, Old Mill begin hitting from medium range and working the ball inside effectively and eventually went up, 46-30, on an Austin Johnson basket with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left inthe third period. But Northeast's press and tenacity, coupled with the Patriots' brief slumber at the line, nearly wiped out the lead.
"We're pleased we had a chance at the end," Eagles coach John Barbour said, "but we were hoping it would be a different outcome."
It nearly was, as Old Mill missed the front end of four consecutive one-and-one free-throw situations in the final 1:30.
"Against Annapolis, if I remember correctly, we were 6-of-8 down the stretch," Bunting said, referring to Old Mill's 68-62 upset of the defending 4A state champions last Tuesday. "But tonight. . . ."
After Northeast's Matt Conaway scored his only basket on a follow with just under two minutes remaining to leave his team trailing, 64-56, Old Mill center Shawn Craig missed the front end of a one-and-one.
He wouldn't be the last.
The Eagles' Craig Everett rebounded the errant shot, was fouled, and sank two free throws to draw Northeast within six points, 64-58. Everett then made a steal and layup, and Old Mill's Ravon Austin (16 points) was fouled, as the hosts looked to stop the clock.
Austin came up empty on his free-throw attempt, and after Craig rebounded a missed shot at the other end, Steve Strauss stole the ball and layed it in to reduce the lead to two points, 64-62.
Old Mill's Nijui Truesdale and Austin would miss from the line on successive one-and-ones, but Craig gathered an offense rebound and was fouled intentionally by Kevin Mursch.
Craig had to leave the game with an elbow injury, the result of being bounced off the hardwood floor, and his replacement, Terrell Eldridge, sank one of two foul shots.
Old Mill retained possession with a 65-62 lead, but a Truesdale pass kicked off Austin's leg and out of bounds, and the Eagles had a chance to tie the game with 13 seconds left. But Everett misfired on a three-point attempt, and Damien Sewell (eight points) grabbed the rebound and buried two free throws to ice the game.
Sewell had a team-high 14 rebounds.
Everett led all scorers with 18 points, including 6-of-7 shooting from the line, and gathered 10 rebounds. Steve Strauss had 14 points, and Mursch, nine points and 18 rebounds.
Old Mill's Truesdale and Will Crowder had 11 points each, and Eldridge added nine.