Those familiar with Howard County boys basketball would be hard pressed to say Long Reach and Wilde Lake weren’t the league’s best this season, especially after Thursday’s night.
For the second time this season, the Columbia rivals co-starred in another overtime thriller. No. 15 Wilde Lake continued its historic season, claiming a 86-76 victory for the Class 3A East Region 2 championship, in front of a raucous standing-room only audience on Dobbin Road.
Senior Nathan Hiteshew scored six points and sophomore D’Andre Hoskins added 5 in the extra period for the Howard County champ Wildecats (21-3 overall), who are projected to host a 3A state quarterfinal Saturday.
“We kept our heads,” junior Kain Corkeron said. “We trust in each, trust in our coaches and trust in our practicing. We just got it done.”
Wilde Lake junior guard Ethan Jackson splashed a 3-pointer to give the Wildecats a 76-73 lead at the 5-minute mark of overtime. Corkeron followed with a layup off a steal and Hiteshew knocked down an open 3-pointer a minute later as the Wildecats built an 82-74 lead.
Wilde Lake outlasted Long Reach, 75-70, in overtime in January. That game was the deciding factor in the Wildecats winning the Howard County crown for the first time since 1978.
It wasn’t enough, however, for homecourt Thursday as Long Reach had one fewer regular season loss (2) than Wilde Lake (3). Teams are seeded based on their regular season record (not including in-season tournament results) for the region playoffs.
It didn’t make a difference for Wilde Lake.
“We played here earlier this season and it was the same type of game [so] we were comfortable playing here,” Wilde Lake coach Jay McMillan said. The Wildecats beat the Lightning 75-70 in overtime on Jan. 13.
“Our players stayed composed. We just stayed together like we have been doing all season. Trusting in one another. Trust in what we do on both ends of the floor and we were able to execute at the end.”
The game reached the overtime period following a wild finish to regulation. Long Reach trailed 68-65 with a minute left in regulation and the Wildecats had possession. The Lightning defense forced a turnover by drawing a charge and closed within a point on a basket by senior Brice Koontz with 40 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Wilde Lake junior Xavier Gilliam was fouled with 7 seconds left in the game. Gilliam calmly drained both free throws and Long Reach called timeout to draw up a final play.
Coming out of the timeout, Long Reach senior Christian Dean came off a screen and drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 70 as the Lightning faithful roared and the buzzer sounded.
Dean hit big shots Thursday and finished with a game-high 30 points. RJ Barnes added 24 for the Lightning.
The final stretch in regulation Thursday was reflective of a game filled with wild momentum shifts and big runs.
After a slow first quarter, Wilde Lake was the first to take control of the game. Gilliam exerted his
dominance on the glass and inside as the Wildecats took control with a 13-0 run to end the first half. Gilliam scored 7 points down the stretch of the first half as Wilde Lake turned a 25-20 deficit into a 33-25 lead at the break.
“Xavier [Gilliam] was just a man out there,” Long Reach coach Andrew Lazzor said. “There are times when he goes up and rips that ball out of the air and there is nothing we can do. Give them credit. They are going to be a hard matchup in the next round. People aren’t used to seeing that kind of size.”
Long Reach (21-3) was undeterred, ratcheting up the defensive intensity at the start of the second half. The Lightning used its pressure defense to create numerous turnovers as they scored the first 19 points of the third quarter to explode out to a 47-33 lead.
Dean led the way with 10 points and two steals during the run, while senior Ethan Maokhamphiou had 5 points on two baskets in transition.
Wilde Lake regained their composure near the end of the third quarter, closing with a 17-4 run to keep the game close at 51-47. The Wildecats pulled even at 51 with 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter to set up the exciting end of regulation.
Gilliam had 20 points, most coming inside the paint, while Hiteshew also had 20 and Corkeron scored 19.
It was the region title since 2020 for Wilde Lake, which is a win away from its first state Final Four since 1994.
“We just trusted in our guys to make shots despite the adversity,” Gilliam said. “It’s hard coming into somebody else’s house, so it adds pressure. I feel like everyone leaning on each other and trusting each other, it gives people that boost to make that shot.”
CLASS 3A EAST REGION 2 FINAL
NO. 15 WILDE LAKE 86, LONG REACH 76 (OT)
Wilde Lake: Nathan Hiteshew 20, Xavier Gilliam 20, Kain Corkeron 19, Dylan Gooden 10, D’Andre Hoskins 9, Ethan Jackson 6, Michael David 2. Totals: 30 17-23 86.
Long Reach: Christian Dean 30, RJ Barnes Jr. 24, Junior Nunez 10, Jaylen Saunders 5, Michael Reid 3, Brice Koontz 2, Cameron Valentine 2. Totals: 30 9-15 76.
Wilde Lake 11 22 14 23 16 - 86
Long Reach 14 11 26 19 6 - 76