With Long Reach boys basketball embarking on a quest this winter to potentially capture the program’s first Howard County championship crown since 2008, coach Andrew Lazzor has very pointedly been leaning on the oldest cliché in the book during the first month of the season.

“I know it’s been said a million times by coaches everywhere, but literally all we talk about is ‘One game at a time.’ What happened yesterday means nothing if we aren’t ready and willing to put in the work toward what’s in front of us,” Lazzor said Wednesday in the aftermath of his team’s 79-41 victory over Hammond.

And, in many ways, Long Reach’s convincing victory over the visiting Golden Bears perfectly encapsulated just how focused this year’s Lightning team is.

Exactly 24 hours prior to stepping on the floor against Hammond, Long Reach had earned a tight non-league win over Milford Mill and Lazzor was naturally wary of a let-down performance with such a quick turnaround. Instead, he was thrilled to see the Lightning keep the momentum going by racing out to a 42-28 halftime lead Wednesday and never slowing down in the second half.

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Long Reach (4-0 overall, 3-0 Howard) had nine players finish with at least one basket, including a team-high 16 points to go along with nine rebounds from RJ Barnes Jr. Ethan Maokhamphiou (15 points, 5 assists), Christian Dean (14 points, 5 steals) and Brendan Diggs (12 points) joined him in double-figures scoring.

It’s the first 4-0 start for the Long Reach program since that squad in 2008, which finished 25-3 and made it to the 3A state title game. But for as high as the ceiling may be for this year’s squad, Barnes Jr. is very quick to point out that this team hasn’t accomplished anything yet despite the encouraging start.

“Until a banner is up on that wall, we have nothing to boast about,” he said. “These wins only mean something if we keep improving, keep getting better. We know the history and we haven’t won anything in over the past 10 years, so it’s on us to go out and get it.”

Long Reach certainly came out and got going early against Hammond, with a mix of layups and 3-pointers establishing a double-digit advantage in the first five minutes. By the end of the first quarter, the Lightning held a 22-10 lead.

The Golden Bears, however, showed some fight early in the second quarter. With Justin Christian (11 points), Nathan Chiatey (8) and Brando Campos (8 points) leading the way, Hammond cut its deficit to five, 29-24, with 3:25 left in the half.

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“You saw for that stretch what is possible when they buy in. We are fighting the fight with just one kid with previous varsity experience, so we go through stretches where we look good and then we go through other stretches where we look like we have 12 guys playing their first varsity basketball season,” Hammond coach Mike Salapata said. “Our focus is on getting the experience now so we can be a different team come January and February.”

Long Reach answered the Hammond push with a 13-4 run heading into intermission. A buzzer-beating basket by Barnes Jr capped the spurt.

Long Reach then outscored Hammond (1-2, 1-2 Howard), 23-7, in the third quarter and the rout was on.

“For us it definitely starts with the defense, and I think that’s what changed at the end of the first half and into the third quarter,” Barnes Jr. said. “We started getting back, started hustling and that got us some steals and easy baskets.”

Big picture, Lazzor said this group does have the potential to be special.

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“I always measure my personal success as a coach by squeezing the most juice I can out of the orange with each group of kids. And what excites me the most about this team is that they are mentally tough and want to get better,” Lazzor said. “Let’s just say that It’s nice getting off to a strong start like this and still knowing there’s a lot more juice left to be squeezed.”


Long Reach - Barnes Jr. 16, Maokhamphiou 15, Dean 14, Diggs 12, Valentine 9, Jayden 4, Dillion 3, Junior 2, Marcus 2, Moe 2.

Hammond - Christian 11, Chiatey 8, Campos 8, Campbell 5, Wilk 5, Addo 2, Amoateng 2.

Half: 42-28 Long Reach