Great Mills boys basketball head coach Jeff Burrell knows as the middle of January approaches, each game becomes that much more important for everyone in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.
“It is SMAC time now where every single game counts a little bit more than the ones in the nonconference,” Burrell said. “So we are excited anytime we get one of these ‘W’s.”
The Hornets did get a ‘W’ on Wednesday night at home over the visiting Patuxent Panthers, 69-22, in a battle of two SMAC Chesapeake Division teams.
“Tonight we played pretty decent. I was happy with the effort and the intensity. It is always good to get a nice home win,” Burrell said. “I was happy to see the crowd on a Wednesday coming out like this. That was a really cool thing.”
Despite the lopsided score, Great Mills’ fans were treated to six thunderous slam dunks courtesy of junior big man Dominic “Max” Brooks.
“[Dunking] is just a fun thing,” Brooks said. “Two points is two points. I just do it for the crowd.”
Early on, Great Mills (6-3, 1-0 SMAC Chesapeake) was able to put pressure on a young Patuxent team by employing a full-court press that forced the Panthers into some turnovers.
“We were just overmatched. Great Mills has some very good and talented athletes,” Panthers head coach RJ Buck said. “I have to commend them, they played a great game tonight.”
Buck called a timeout with 5 minutes 21 seconds remaining in the first quarter as the Hornets raced out to an early 9-0 lead.
“It was good to see our guys playing better together. That is what I got out of tonight,” Burrell said.
The Panthers struggled to score in the first quarter and at one point trailed 21-2 late in the opening frame.
“Going into the game I knew that if we didn’t do a good job on the glass, then we were going to struggle,” Buck said. “Great Mills did a great job on the glass, and we struggled on the glass. That is what led to the outcome of the game.”
Brooks' first slam dunk of the night put the Hornets ahead 23-3 with 90 seconds left in the first quarter, a two-handed slam to the roar of cheers from the home crowd.
Later in the quarter, Jamari Jordan of Great Mills tried his own two-handed jam that rimmed off, but Brooks was there to clean up the miss with his second slam dunk of the opening quarter with a huge smile across his face.
“Tonight was a fun game. They were an all right team, we just played good basketball all around,” Brooks said.
The Hornets led 31-6 after one quarter with four different players scoring points, including Brooks with 10, senior Troy Herbert and freshman Isiah Mills adding nine each and Terrell Kent with three.
“Tonight was a good win,” Herbert said. “I try to get my teammates involved, but also get my scoring too and work on rebounding, boxing out and being good all around.”
The Panthers began the second quarter outscoring the Hornets 4-2 in the opening two minutes and Burrell called his first timeout of the game with 6:20 left in the first half with Great Mills ahead 33-10.
Out of the timeout, the Hornets went on a 12-5 run as Brooks was able to throw down two more dunks to help push the lead to 30 points at halftime, 45-15.
In the second half, Patuxent struggled to score as it only scored seven in the third quarter and were shut out on the scoreboard in the fourth.
“We are still trying to find ourselves. We are a young team and have a lot of sophomores and some juniors. A lot of our guys are inexperienced basketball players,” Buck said. “Right now, it is just a process of allowing them to grow through these games and getting the playing experience they need to get to grow and become better.”
Sophomore Kimani Brown led Patuxent with nine points, while junior AJ Johnson and senior Noah Bibb each added four.
“Right now, they are learning to mature. We are in the maturing stage with a lot of young guys,” Buck said. “Their maturity levels are growing each and every day and that is what I love to see. We are just growing up.”
Great Mills outscored the Panthers 24-7 in the second half as Brooks scored a game-high 18 points, Herbert had 15 and Mills added 12, including two three-pointers.
“The beginning of the season wasn’t that great and was a little rough, but we have started winning games in a row and we are picking it up down the stretch now,” Herbert said.
The Hornets are scheduled to host Northern at 6:30 tonight.
“Long-term goals we want to find ourselves in a position competing for a SMAC championship, but short-term we go game by game," Burrell said. "We want to make sure we are as prepared as possible for Northern and then go from there.”
As Patuxent (0-8, 0-2) searches for its first win of the season, Buck is appreciative of the growth taking place with all aspects of the program.
“As a coach, yeah it’s tough, but at the same time I’m growing as a coach as well. This is teaching me a lot of things about coaching and my players,” Buck said. “I am loving the process even though we are struggling. I am loving the process of learning and growing with these guys.”
The Panthers are slated to host McDonough at 6:30 tonight.