No. 5 Engineers survive Milford Mill’s rally for 3A state boys’ basketball championship repeat; Mims and Lewis combine for 37 (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS/PRESS CONFERENCES HERE!)

by Derek Toney

Poly High boys’ basketball coach Sam Brand admits he puts a lot on his players. He challenges them academically and pushes them to the brink on the hardwood.

So, with its championship reign hanging in the balance Saturday, the often-intense Brand calmly had one question for his team.

“I ask them what wins basketball games. A couple of guys yelled out defense, a couple of guys yelled rebound. I said well we need both,” said Brand.

The Engineers came up with a final stand, and, again celebrated on Gary Williams Court. No. 5 Poly held off seventh-ranked Milford Mill Academy, 49-47, to win the Class 3A state championship at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center.

Sophomore forward Justin Lewis had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Engineers (22-6), and Long Beach State University-bound Demetrius Mims added 17. Jordan Goodwin led Milford Mill with 15 points and Ugo Obasi finished with 13 points.

After an early flurry, Poly wasn’t able to put away the Baltimore County school until the final buzzer, becoming the first team since the Millers (2010 and 2011) to go back-to-back in Class 3A. It’s the 10th straight year a Baltimore-area team has won 3A.

It was validation and relief for the Engineers, who completed a “triple crown” postseason (won Baltimore City Division I title and South Region championship).

“I feel like we’ve played every good team in the state except for Milford,” said Brand. “We really felt throughout the year we were the best team in Maryland, private, public, anything in between.”

The Cold Spring Lane school, which was the top-ranked team in VSN’s Top 20 for several weeks, played a daunting non-league schedule against the likes of John Carroll School (won MIAA A Conference), Perry Hall (two-time 4A state champion), Baltimore Catholic League champ and current No. 1 St. Frances Academy, nationally-ranked Simeon from Chicago, and District champ Wilson.

The experiences left Poly hardened for the state playoffs where they survived road challenges at Prince George’s County’s Potomac and southern Maryland’s Great Mills last week. It didn’t appear Poly would have another grinder after impressively building a 21-9 first quarter lead and an 11-point advantage early in the fourth, but Milford Mill stayed resolute.

Trailing 44-33, the Baltimore County squad went on a 14-5 run, capped with senior guard Ahmed Milton’s free throws with 49.1 seconds left in regulation for a two-point game. Poly sophomore guard Raheem Ali missed a floater in the paint and Obasi came up with the rebound. Milford Mill called timeout with 16.2 seconds left.

It’s no secret the Millers wanted to get the ball to leading scorer Goodwin, who finally found his shooting touch in the second half. Poly countered with Cleveland Horton, who draped Goodwin.

Milton passed off to Obasi, whose drive towards the paint was impended by Seth Jones and Mims. Obasi returned the ball to Milton who drove to the basket.

With Mims and Lewis converging, Milton’s bounce pass went through Eric Turner’s legs. The buzzer sounded as Miller center Darius Woods fell on the ball.

After consoling his devastated players, Milford Mill coach Ryan Smith commended his team’s tenacity.

“I explained to the boys that’s basketball. When you play long enough, you win close games and you lose close games,” said Smith, who guided Washington Avenue school to its first state final four since 2014. “We didn’t execute like we wanted at the end, but they gave me everything they had and that’s the only thing I ask for as a coach.”

Poly, a school known for football under legendary coach Augie Waibel as well as its rigorous academics, has become a basketball powerhouse. Brand, a former star for the Engineers and later, Morgan State, has raised the profile two-fold since returning to his alma-mater.

“It’s so easy to say that thing isn’t about wins and losses, it’s about who you are, but that’s what I really believe,” said Brand. “The winning is a product of who we are.”

“Since my freshman year, they’ve preached to me, ‘Our family vs. your team,’ and I bought into that since day one,” said Mims, who won 74 games, two city and state titles as a four-year varsity starter. “I just stayed with the program and grew with it, so these last two years have been very fun for me – playing on the biggest stage and winning on the biggest stage.”

Class 3A state boys’ basketball championship

at University of Maryland

No. 5 Poly 49, No. 7 Milford Mill Academy 47

Poly – Mims 17, Walker 5, Lewis 20, Ali 4, Jones 3. Totals 15 16-23 49.

Milford Mill – Obasi 13, Milton 4, Turner 10, Goodwin 15, Parker 5. Totals 18 5-12 47.

Poly 21 8 12 8 – 49

Milford Mill 9 10 14 14 – 47