Before tip-off Monday night, two Atholton parents sat in the top row of the school’s bleachers and tried to identify the best player for the visiting Oakland Mills boys’ basketball team. One of them pointed at junior Mamadou Ndiaye, a 6-foot-7 forward drawing interest from Mayland, Kansas State, UNLV, West Virginia and Texas Tech.

“No, that can’t be him,” the other parent answered. “He doesn’t look that tall.”

Twenty-eight seconds into the game, Ndiaye rolled toward the basket and threw down a two-handed slam. A few minutes later, he brought the Scorpions’ bench to its feet with a one-handed dunk.

By then, the parents knew. This was the player they had heard so much about.

Ndiaye’s dunks sparked a 26-point first quarter for Oakland Mills, which Coach Jon Browne said was the team’s best start of the season. The Scorpions led by 19 points in the first half and withstood a sneaky fourth-quarter push from Atholton to win, 78-71, and stay unbeaten in Howard County.

Ndiaye, who transferred from Laurel before the season, finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and a block. Senior guard Deshawn Willis led the Scorpions with 22 points.

“We know our capabilities,” Ndiaye said. “We know that we’re able to put up points like that in the first quarter and get off to fast starts and put pressure on the other team. We just need to do it consistently.”

Oakland Mills (11-1, 9-0) swarmed the Raiders with a defensive press in the first quarter, causing seven turnovers and turning them into several easy layups. Scorpions guard Daniel Kiely said that different teams react differently to defensive pressure, and Atholton’s reaction set the tone for the rest of the game.

“We came out fast, playing defense, getting steals. They didn’t know what to do,” said Kiely, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. “They were a little scared from all that pressure they were getting, and from how fast we were playing.”

However, the Raiders made major adjustments to beat that press in the second half and stay within striking distance. With Ndiaye on the bench because of foul trouble, they closed the third quarter on a 11-4 run and opened the fourth with seven straight points to pull within 57-53.

But in the end, it was not enough. Willis drained 7 of 8 free throws in the final two minutes to put the game away.

“We knew that [first-half lead] wasn’t going to last. That team’s talented,” Browne said of Atholton. “It’s a well-disciplined, good-shooting team. We knew they were going to make a run.”

The Scorpions are in the midst of another sort of run. After going undefeated in the county last season, they will face only two teams above .500 the rest of the year. With his dunks and defense, Ndiaye helped them clear their last major hurdle to repeating that feat: Atholton (10-3, 9-2).

“We have to show that we’re the top dog in the county, that we’re the best team and we deserve to be the best team,” Ndiaye said. “But we need to take care of business. We can’t take any opponent lightly and we need to come out hard every game.”