BETHESDA — Max Oppenheim and Walt Whitman were in this exact position before. Flashback to last March, and the Vikings were duking it out with Clarksburg for the 4A West region title. The Vikings built an early double-digit lead backed by tightfisted defense, but let it slip away amid a crammed, tense atmosphere at Blair High down the road.
Walt Whitman went on to win in overtime, 62-61, with a wee bit offense and one last defensive stand. Friday night against crosstown rival Bethesda-Chevy Chase had an identical script — pad a double-digit cushion, watch it vanish and hold on down the stretch with a sputtering offense in a playoff atmosphere.
“It was definitely similar. A lot of tension,” Oppenheim said after the No. 19 Vikings outlasted the Barons, 44-43.
Oppenheim, a 6-foot-6 center who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, back-boned a struggling offense that missed 10 free throws and only produced 16 second half points while anchoring the middle in a 2-3 matchup zone that allowed four first half field goals. The Vikings led 28-15 at halftime, but were outscored 28-16 in the final two quarters due in large part of not having Alex Sanson, who exited the game with a hand injury. Sanson, Whitman’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, had 12 points at halftime.
This past in week in practice prior to Friday, the Vikings (13-4) worked on communicating with each other and cutting off dribble-drive penetrations from the perimeter. For entire first half, and parts of the third quarter, those plans came to fruition.
“We’ve really been working on that, because we struggled with that earlier in the season,” Oppenheim said.
Oppenheim opened the second half by hitting 3 of 4 free throws to extend Whitman’s lead to 30-15 and 31-17.
The Barons then reeled off a 9-1 run to draw within six, 32-26, with about two minutes left in the third quarter.
Geo Ceceras, who charged Bethesda-CC with nine points in the third period, dropped in a fast-break layup to cut into Whitman’s lead before the final quarter began, 34-30.
In the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, Oppenheim hedged off a screen to cut backdoor and finished a contact layup with his left hand. His free throw, capping the pivotal three-point play, padded Whitman’s lead to 39-30.
After that, Bethesda-CC slowly chipped away. Whitman’s lead was trimmed to 41-34 with just under five minutes to go and then to 43-38 at the three minute mark.
Jerome Hilliard ‘s layup made it 44-40 with two minutes remaining and Thomas Baer’s emphatic 3-pointer deep in the left corner had the Barons within one, 44-43, with 1:34 to go.
Whitman turned the ball over on the next possession, when Jack McClelland was called for a charge, and Bethesda-CC held the ball for the final 1:05 in attempt for the game-winning basket.
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) January 27, 2017
Cameron Galic’s off-balance 3 at the buzzer sailed wide, and like last year’s region championship, the Vikings held on amid a tense, packed gymnasium.
“Our defense definitely bailed us out,” Whitman coach Chris Lun said. “We’re pretty good with a matchup zone that we play. Guys are good at clogging driving lanes and bumping people off at the right spot.”
Joey Squeri added 10 points for the Vikings, who went 13-for-23 at the free throw line.
Miles English led all scorers with 14 points for Bethesda-CC.
“We always play B-CC close,” Lun said. “I’m just happy to get out of here with a win.”