FREDERICK — From the drop of the ball to the game-sealing free throws, Linganore senior guard Nicholas Lang operated with relentless determination against crosstown rival Oakdale, doing anything and everything to not let one of their goals remain unchecked . Just three days prior, Lang and his teammates held a players-only meeting, and laid out every aspiration for the 2017-18 season. A win against the Bears, who swept the series a year ago, headed the chronological list.
All night long, Lang gashed Oakdale with nifty jumpers and stingy defense. And with his team trailing by three with under-four minutes to go, Lang hurled into the lane, wrangled down an offensive board and finished a tough put-back with two bigger defenders draped over him. It started a trend in which Lang scored eight of the Lancers’ final 12 points, decisive enough to lift them past No. 23 Oakdale, 69-65.
“We always have a talk before the season for our goals and our standards, and we literally did it three days ago because of all the football guys [joining the team late after winning a state title], and one of our main goals was to beat Oakdale,” Lang said. “It’s the first check on our goal list.”
Lang wound up with 29 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals, and speared a defense that held a consistent-shooting Bears team to 3-for-11 from deep. Overall, Linganore shot 55.6 percent (25-for-45) and Oakdale shot 47.1 percent (24-for-51).
“Nicholas is a competitor,” Linganore coach Tom Kraft said. “He has more ownership of the leadership role. He also understands he doesn’t have to do everything offensively, and he knows how to get everyone involved.”
Lang is the only player left from Linganore’s Final Four run in 2014-15, when he got called up from junior varsity during the playoff run as a freshman. As a sophomore, he started on a team that went 22-2, and last year as a junior, he played a large part of a 16-win season. Still, Lang feels he has unfinished business. Over the summer, he’s taken his game to a different level. The stepback jumper is sharper. The pull-up more compact and ball-handling is swifter. Against a team they were no match for last year, it showed.
“He did what a good player is supposed to do in the offseason: He worked and worked and worked,” Kraft said. “Strength training, conditioning, flexibility; that’s what the great players do.”
Lang hit three 3-pointers, all coming in timely fashion. When either team had yet to score 1:39 into regulation, Lang pulled up from the top of the key to break the ice. His second and third came in the third quarter, which cut six-point deficits to 37-34 and 42-39.
He also hit a cool step-back jumper to cap a 9-3 run that opened the contest and made all eight of his free throws, six of which came the final minute.
The win was even more impressive considering Linganore never ran off a sizeable of its own and turned it over 19 times, which led to 22 points off turnovers for Oakdale. It also helped the Lancers controlled the backboards, 30-19.
“It shows us that much more we’re one of the best teams out here in the region, we can really make a run this year,” Lang said.
The Bears, led by Collin Schlee’s 20 points, six rebounds and four steals, reeled off an 11-0 run before halftime to give them a 33-24 lead, the largest of the night. But from there, Linganore whittled away and outscored them 45-31 the rest of the way. Drew Twillman (18 points, eight rebounds), put the Lancers’ ahead 44-42 at the 2:53 mark in the third quarter with an emphatic three-point on a reverse layup and converted three monumental baskets in the final frame: A 3-ball to make it 55-54, layup to make it 59-58 and put-back to extend the lead to 62-58.
Minutes later, Linganore checked off goal No. 1 and sealed it away. Now it’s onto the next task: A Thursday meeting with 3A West foe Thomas Johnson, which split the two-game series a year ago.
“It feels great right now, not going to lie about that. It feels great. But you can’t put too much stock on a game, especially in December,” Kraft said. “It’s a game to build on, a game to get us confidence, a game to continue our good start. The guys are excited and should be. Oakdale is a very good program, and has been for a long time. Any time you beat a quality program like that, you should be proud of that.
“But one of the things we talked to the kids in the locker room [about] is let’s not let this be the highlight of the year. We have other goals we want to reach.”