Atholton's Brett Haas, center, fights for a rebound with… (Jen Rynda, Patuxent Homestead )
For 29 of the 32 minutes in their Class 3A East Region semifinal Thursday night, Atholton and Centennial were practically mirror images of one another — scrappy on defense, methodical on offense and relatively even on the scoreboard.
It's what transpired in those other three minutes, though, that has No. 15 and top-seeded Centennial moving on into a regional final matchup with Annapolis.
A 13-0 Eagles run early in the third quarter broke open what was a tie game and gave them all the cushion they would need to hold on for a 63-51 victory in front of a near sell out.
Athlolton, which was led by Gavin Stephenson's game-high 27 points, never got closer than eight points over the final 13 minutes.
"As a team we came together [at the half] and said we're not losing this game," said Centennial's Timi Tinuoye, who scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. "We just came out with a lot more intensity."
During the decisive run, which gave Centennial its first double-digit advantage of the night, most of the damage was done in the paint. Five interior baskets, combined with a 3-pointer by Tinuoye, in a span of 2:56 turned a 24-24 tie into a 37-24 Eagles' lead.
After settling for jumpers in the first half, Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said the emphasis was on high-percentage shots.
"We changed our offensive tempo, actually slowing down, to get ourselves better looks," he said. "We were still running in transition when the opportunity presented itself, but at the same time we backed it out and then ran things through in our half-court sets."
For an Atholton team that had kept itself within four points of the lead for practically the entire first half, things unraveled quickly.
After Brady Acker (10 points) hit a jumper in the first 10 seconds of the third quarter, the Raiders managed just three field goals over the next 13 minutes. It was during that stretch that Centennial opened up its largest lead of 15 points.
"I'm not going to point to any one stretch. … We had trouble scoring all night and they are a good defensive team," Atholton coach Jim Albert said. "But sure, they're execution was pretty good at the beginning of the second half and ours wasn't."
Stephenson did his best to get the Raiders back into it, scoring 14 points in the final three minutes of the game and getting his team back within eight with 1:45 remaining.
Ultimately, it wasn't enough to defeat a Centennial team that hit 18 of 23 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Omari Ringgold (16 points), Keonte Potts (13) and Ben Goldsmith (12) joined Tinuoye in double digist for the Eagles.
Centennial will host third-seeded Annapolis, a winner over Reservoir in the other 3A East semifinal, Saturday at 7 p.m.