Essex Thompson didn’t seem to care that there were two defenders flanking the lane and another anchoring the middle. Even if the entire Albert Einstein High School boys’ basketball team was crammed in there, Thompson appeared zeroed in on one thing: getting to the rim.
It wasn’t exactly a thunderous dunk that ensued, the ball rattling around a few times before falling, but it was good for an and-one and an excuse for the Inferno — the Rockville student section’s moniker — to celebrate.
Behind a grinning Thompson was a laughing Nehemiah Jackson, a high-fiving Brian Ball, a raucous crowd of neon-clad students (think Oregon meets Oklahoma State), and a pleased coach in Steve Watson.
The ninth-ranked Rams were simply having a blast, and they carried that relaxed, carefree demeanor throughout their 59-49 victory against the visiting Titans on Friday.
“He’s such a nice guy,” Ball said. “It’s like, when he dunked on the guy, he was about to help him up and be like ‘Sorry!’ He’s such a good guy and he’s so humble.”
“The crowd is the biggest thing,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to hear the Inferno, the reaction.”
It was all smiles from the outset for Rockville and a good deal of trouble for Einstein. Senior center Abe Camara, who had scored at least 37 in two of the Titans’ previous five games, picked up his second foul in the first six minutes and his team already trailing, 7-3. Meanwhile, second-leading scorer Joe Bradshaw was under the lockdown defense of Ball, who effectively denied Bradshaw from touching the ball and having a pesky hand in his face at nearly all times when he did have it.
Rockville responded to Einstein’s early struggles by jumping out to a 23-12 lead midway through the second quarter, and that was before Ball and Jackson went on a 10-3 run by themselves to close the half.
“It’s so much fun, dude,” Ball said. “Even right now thinking about it, basketball is something we’ve been working on our whole life. It’s a privilege, you know? It’s like when the ball is coming to you, sometimes it’s just so easy; you’re not forcing anything, that’s when you play your best game.”
The Titans were forced to play catch-up for the final 16 minutes, no easy feat given Rockville’s reputation for stingy defense. And it wasn’t made any easier as Ball continued scoring, slashing for backdoor layups and pull-up jumpers to finish with 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting. He also added six rebounds and one steal to zero turnovers while holding Bradshaw to 11 points on a rough shooting night.
Thompson and Jackson added 13 and 14, respectively, while big man Jacob Griffiths-Randolph grappled with Camara down low for 10 rebounds and four blocks.
“We put it together today,” Watson said. “And that’s something we’re looking for going through February. We’re hoping to be playing like that down the stretch.”
Rockville 59, Einstein 49
Rockville (14-3, 9-2): 9 20 18 12 — 59
Einstein (6-12, 5-5): 5 10 13 21 — 49
Rockville: Brian Ball 28, Nehemiah Jackson 14, Essex Thompson 13, Ben Wiebusch 2, Brad Rogers 2.
Einstein: Joe Bradshaw 11, Gil Reynolds 9, Michael Habte 9, Abe Camara 8, JD Guererro 6, Mike McMillan 3, Johnson Kilgore 3.