DAMASCUS – Entering their home matchup against a four-win Rockville High School on Jan. 17, the Damascus High School boys basketball team looked to rebuild some momentum after losing their third game of the season against Watkins Mill.
However, the Rams had other ideas. The road team jumped out to a strong 17-3 lead and continued to hold onto the advantage for the majority of the contest. Despite a late run by the “Swarmin’ Hornets,” a 27-point performance by junior Aloye Ekpeso was enough as Rockville earned a stunning 60-47 win over Damascus.
With the win, Rockville (5-6) showed its ability to take down any team regardless of the opponent. When asked about his performance in the stunning victory, Ekpeso credited the win to his teammates and their ball movement for better scoring opportunities.
“It didn’t really come from me, it really came from my teammates,” said Ekpeso. “They found me, and I was open.”
In the first quarter, five different Rockville players contributed to the dominant 17-3 start, with the lone three points for the Hornets coming from senior Kevin Brown. Damascus started to catch up with senior Kynu Stone compiling 12 of the team’s 18 points in the second quarter as he became the focal point of their offense.
However, it did not prevent the Rams from continuing to score, as Ekpeso finished the first half with 17 points, 13 of which came in the second quarter. The junior also excelled from shooting from behind the arc, scoring three 3-pointers to help Rockville take a 32-21 at halftime.
“Our record doesn’t really show it,” said Ekpeso. “But we’re one of the best teams in Montgomery County, in my opinion. When we play team ball, I feel like no one can stop us.”
After an explosive shooting display before halftime, fouls and free-throw attempts dominated the third quarter as both teams scored 12 points each. Senior Preston Murray scored five straight points for the Hornets, all from the charity stripe.
In the fourth quarter, Murray and Stone led the comeback for Damascus, cutting the lead to six points multiple times.
“Preston really got going in the second half attacking the basket, especially in transition,” Head Coach Brian Humphrey said. “Kynu’s had several games over 20. He can really score. Those two do an excellent job for us offensively.”
Their attempts to tie the game were thwarted by turnovers and missed layups. It proved to be costly as Ekpeso and his senior teammate Jailen Anderson, who finished the game with 11 points, converted a series of layups to seal the critical road win.
“I’m very proud of the team for the way we responded,” said Rams Head Coach Todd Dembroski. “I think we showed a lot of maturity and growth today, because we got off to a good start, and we knew Damascus was going to come back, but we went on a small run of our own to keep that lead.”
Humphrey acknowledged the frustration of losing to a county opponent, especially in the midpoint of the season, where results impact your seeding for the state tournament.
However, the Hornets head coach said he was happy to see his team fight back from their first-quarter deficit to get within six points to reclaim the lead. Stone and Murray finished the night with 25 and 19 points, respectively.
“It seems of me that in Montgomery County this year, no one’s super dominant,” said Humphrey. “No one’s really super bad. Anybody can beat anybody.”
For Rockville, the victory, starting a two-game winning streak, can be a turning point, Ekpeso said. While they only had four wins coming into Damascus, their performance will drive them to victory and stun observers all over the county. Ekpeso said he hopes that they can continue playing with that same intensity for the rest of the season.
“I feel great,” said Anderson. “I feel like it was a great team victory. We needed this one today. Damascus, they’re a great team. They played really hard. We just came out with it at the end.”