Entering this season, Oakland Mills Coach Jon Browne had high expectations for Mamadou Ndiaye. The senior forward was coming off a season in which he averaged 19.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and Ndiaye was poised to play a leading role on a roster stocked with talent.
But a foot injury in the preseason sidelined Ndiaye until the Scorpions’ fourth game, and his comeback has been full of hiccups as he worked to regain his conditioning and play through any lingering effects of the injury.
But with Oakland Mills facing its most significant game of the season at No. 20 Centennial on Wednesday, Browne said Ndiaye is coming off one of his best games of the year and could provide the difference in a contest that could put the winner in the driver’s seat for the Howard County championship.
“He just changes who we are, man,” Browne said. We’re coming along as a team, too. We’re trying to gel and share the ball a little bit more. His presence Friday night [against Mount Hebron] was just ridiculous. He was playing way above the rim, great defense, rebounding. It’s just a totally different chemistry with him on the floor when he’s feeling it.”
Ndiaye is averaging 12.2 points per game, but his production has been occasionally erratic. In his 10 games back, he has six double-digit scoring games — including a season-high 21 in an overtime win against McDonogh on Dec. 27 — and four single-digit games. Browne said Ndiaye “had to play catch up” with his conditioning, and that contributed to struggles.
In his season debut against River Hill on Dec. 17, Ndiaye scored only four points as he tried to get back up to speed. He sat out the subsequent game, a double-digit upset loss to Long Reach, but has played every game since.
In his absence, guard Will Robinson Jr. (22.1 points per game) emerged as a versatile go-to option, while point guard Daniel Kiely (12.4 points per game) — whom Browne called the Scorpions’ “heart and soul” — is yet another option on offense.
Ndiaye “changes things,” Browne said. “You’ve got to worry about him inside. He frees up the outside. We got to make those shots still. He demands a presence defensively. Someone’s got to match him up. He can play the high post, he can play the low post, he can actually step outside and hit some mid-range. He’s a real matchup nightmare for some teams.”
Browne knows any combination of those players could help his team against Centennial on Wednesday. The Eagles are a perfect 11-0 in Howard County play, and the lone blemish on the season was a 41-38 loss to South Carroll in a holiday tournament. Since then, they’ve won five straight and are led by a trio of offensive threats.
Guard Isaiah White (16.6 points per game) has scored at least 25 points three times this season, and forward Tom Brown and guard Chad Strothers have each taken star turns while averaging 13.1 points per game apiece.
“There’s a lot going around that this could possibly be the county championship,” Browne said. “I would be a fool if I said no. So yeah, is it a big game? Yeah. I would say it’s a big game.”