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Atholton boys basketball defeats Centennial, 54-48, for eighth win in nine games

Atholton coach Jared Albert held a captains meeting with seniors Amir Shaheed and Camden Thibeault after the Raiders’ loss to Meade on Dec. 27, which dropped them to 1-4.

Albert’s message in that meeting was simple: “This is your season, what do you guys want to make of it?”

The Raiders responded by finding their collective identity. Led by Shaheed, Thibeault and fellow senior Deion Dent, the Raiders have played with a heightened intensity in practice and games.

“The key was not keeping our heads down,” Thibeault said. “We came to practice harder each day, started competing more in practice. The competition in practice raised, so game time we came out ready.”

Now, not even an eight-day layoff can slow down Atholton, who beat Centennial on Monday, 54-48. It’s the Raiders’ fourth win in an row and eighth in their last nine games.

Atholton (9-5, 5-4 Howard County) took a nine-point lead to the fourth quarter, but Josh Frazier led a late Centennial rally. Frazier, Howard County’s leading scorer, scored eight of his game-high 27 points in the final quarter. He cut it to a one-possession game with 2:12 remaining, but that was Centennial’s final field goal.

Inside of a minute remaining, Atholton’s Juan Macatangay patiently maneuvered inside for a bucket that made it a two-possession. The Eagles (6-4, 5-4) turned the ball over on their next two possessions as Shaheed and Dent iced the game with free throws.

In the game’s most critical moments, Atholton leaned on its most experienced players to close it out with a focus on its late-game preparation drills in practice.

“I just feel like we’re finishing out practices better,” Dent said. “We lost most of our games at the end of the game by less than five points. I feel like right now we’re just finishing out games and learning how to close it out.”

Every Raider has bought into their role, which was evident throughout the win. Shaheed entered Monday night ranked fifth in the county averaging 17.7 points per game. While he struggled from the field, several other Raiders stepped up.

Kyle Duffie knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the opening quarter as Atholton built a 12-point lead after one.

“You can’t do that,” Centennial coach Rob Slopek said of falling behind. “I told them before the game, we have a list of excuses with the long layoff, having not played and not having practices in. They had the same excuses. Credit to them, Jared had them ready to go and they were hungry in the first quarter. We just didn’t respond. We got to get back to the drawing board tomorrow.”

Thibeault and Dent spearheaded Atholton’s offense in the second quarter. They combined for 19 of the Raiders’ 31 first-half points as the team took an eight-point lead into halftime. Ian Pope Jr. came off the the bench and played strong defense in the third quarter blocking multiple shots. Several other Raiders reserves helped Atholton keep a nine-point lead after three.

“We had Amir on the bench for a lot of the game,” Albert said. “When your leading scorer is on the bench, you’re going to need some other guys around him to step up. Juan Macatangay had a big bucket at the end, that was critical. Bryce Inabinet had a bunch of rebounds late. I thought Camden stepped up and did what he needed to do, taking care of the basketball. Deion helped us on offense. Kyle Duffie had eight points coming off the bench. Those are big points when you’re talking about your leading scorer being out.”