As the Oxon Hill boys' basketball team stood silently in an empty hallway at Bowie State University on Feb. 12 following its 52-48 loss to Suitland, Clippers Coach Billy Lanier found himself in a position he had not encountered in five years.
For the first time since Feb. 11, 1998, Oxon Hill had lost during the stretch run of the regular season. And while Suitland's players left the arena after reveling in their first victory over the Clippers since 1996, many of Oxon Hill's players -- and Lanier -- were stunned.
"I don't know what it means," Lanier said. "You never want to lose, but we got outplayed by Suitland. They deserved to win. Losing is never good, but now maybe our guys know what it feels like to lose this late in the regular season. But our season's not over."
In four of the past five seasons, the Clippers' lone late-season defeat has ended their season. They entered the state tournament unbeaten in both 1998 and '99, only to lose. And Eleanor Roosevelt handed Oxon Hill its fatal loss in the past two 4A South Region finals. The exception came in 2000, when the Clippers won the Maryland 4A title.
Oxon Hill already had clinched at least a share of its third-straight Prince George's 4A League title -- its fourth in the past five years -- entering Wednesday's game against C.H. Flowers. But the loss to Suitland was a hot topic among area players, many of whom were on hand at Bowie State.
"When Oxon Hill lost, it showed that they can be beaten," said C.H. Flowers senior forward Ian McCollough, who attended the game with five teammates, and whose Jaguars were scheduled to play Oxon Hill last night. "You could see how badly Suitland wanted to win that game, and they kept their composure at the end and won the game."
Crossland Coach Sam Harris, whose Cavaliers could face Oxon Hill in the 4A South Region tournament, said his team learned more from sitting in the stands on Feb. 12 than during its two lopsided losses to the Clippers this season.
"When Oxon Hill lost, it gave us hope, and I think it gave a lot of other teams hope, too," Harris said. "Suitland showed my team how you have to play if you want to beat Oxon Hill. You can't be scared, and that's what happened to us every time we play them. We get so caught up in thinking that playing Oxon Hill is the biggest game of the year -- and it is a big game. But then we make a few mistakes and start playing nervous, and then we end up losing."
Oxon Hill, which had won 68 of its past 69 league games overall, opened a seemingly commanding, 43-34 lead against Suitland early in the fourth quarter. But a 14-4 Suitland run, capped by Charles Richardson's jump shot with 1 minute 38 seconds remaining, put the Rams ahead for good.
Afterward, players put the night's outcome into different perspectives.
"We've never been here before: We have never beaten Oxon Hill since all of us have been here," Suitland senior guard Sean Jennings said. "They were always that bump in the road that we could never get over. But now we have."
Oxon Hill senior forward Rashaud Nixon said his team's loss to the Rams should not be blown out of proportion.
"I didn't feel that is was that big of a deal. We lost," said Nixon, who scored 10 points against the Rams. "I didn't think we played a bad game. Suitland just played a little bit better, and they won the game. It's not like our season is over."
Two days later, three Clippers scored in double figures in a routine 65-47 victory over Parkdale. However, Suitland ended its four-game week with a 60-51 loss to C.H. Flowers.
"We watched Suitland beat Oxon Hill, and then we went out and beat Suitland, so I think it gives us a lot of confidence," said C.H. Flowers senior guard Marc Duncan. "We know that we are just as good as any other team in the league, and we can beat anybody if we play hard. That's what the [region tournament] is going to come down to: Which team wants to win the most."