Col. Zadok Magruder High School boys basketball team is the protypical run-and-gun longballers. Its opponent on Wednesday, DeMatha Catholic, is quite the opposite. Their matchup to open the public high school basketball season was basketball's classic speed vs. size.
The Stags boast a lineup with eight players standing 6-foot-4 or taller, including 6-foot-8, 275-pound North Carolina State recruit, BeeJay Anya. The Colonels tallest player, Brian Coleman, is a 6-foot-4 forward-turned center that still finds his way beyond the 3-point arc.
On Wednesday, speed won, 69-65, as the Colonels extended their winning streak to 28 straight games with senior point guard J.J. Epps leading the way with 22 points.
In the game to open last season, DeMatha and its size won easily, thumping Magruder 75-58. That was the Colonels only loss in a season that ended with a victory in the Class 4A state championship game.
“They handed it to us last year and, you know, we got a lot of seniors but our defensive effort was fantastic tonight,” longtime Magruder coach Dan Harwood said. “It was a great win and it's good for Montgomery County basketball.”
Magruder, even if it took all four quarters to do so, made a convincing argument for its style of play.
First quarter: Split decision.
To the surprise of none, Anya won the jump ball, easily flipping it back to point guard Alani Moore. To the surprise of possibly less, Magruder's second field goal attempt was a Nick Griffin three.
Colonels up 5-0.
Buckets were traded for the remainder of the quarter. Magruder's guards did everything they could to help Coleman and Justin Witmer down low, but it seemed a long-shot that the Colonels would be able to swipe every lob thrown Anya's way for an entire game.
The quarter closed 11-11.
Second quarter: Speed, unanimous decision.
In the early minutes of the second, DeMatha looked ready to steal the show at the capacity gym in Rockville. Corey Henson scored five quick points and Kelvin Howard and Alex Newbold each knocked down a three to stretch the Stags' lead to six.
That's the biggest their lead would be all game. It would be stolen two minutes later.
Epps, who had been nursing a sprained knee since a preseason scrimmage with St. John's College, began to find his shot and his rhythm, and his team followed suit. During the last 5 minutes, 15 seconds of the half, the Colonels buried four threes, added seven more points and took a 40-24 lead into halftime.
“We shoot well, but we usually shoot well when we pass well,” Harwood said. “I'd say other than J.J.'s pull-up three, all of our threes were on assists tonight.”
In just the second quarter, Magruder outscored the Stags 29-13. On three balls from kickouts.
Third quarter: Split decision.
Epps cooled, Anya began muscling his way inside, the lead shrank.
DeMatha brought it all the way back to within 10 points but the Colonels continued their spread scoring effort — six players tallied points for Magruder in the third quarter — to extend it back to 17 entering the fourth.
Fourth quarter: Speed wins.
DeMatha coach Mike Jones needed to force turnovers. He couldn't do that with size, he needed speed so Anya sat.
“I like when teams press me because that's my strength,” Epps said. “I know I'm pretty quick and I can get by most guys so once they press I know that's good.”
For awhile, Epps flitted this way and that, keeping DeMatha at bay and the lead comfortable. But soon, Magruder got panicky. Passes were thrown away. Ill-advised shots were taken. The lead dwindled. With 2:40 left, the Stags cut it to within single digits. With 1 minute left, it was a two possession game.
But Matt Ricketts canned a pair of free throws, Tyrii Jackson added one more, and time ran out on the Stags.
It was a lead they couldn't shrink fast enough.
Magruder 69, DeMatha 65
Magruder 11 29 17 12—69
DeMatha 11 13 17 24—65
Magruder (1-0)—J.J. Epps 22; Nick Griffin 16; Matt Ricketts 7; Tyrii Jackson 6; Justin Witmer 6; Ryan Rucker 6; Brian Coleman 4; Josiah Jones 2.
DeMatha (0-2)—Corey Hanson 18; Linwood Ruffin 13; Kelvin Howard 8; Terrell Allen 7; BeeJay Anya 7; Joseph Hampton 6; Alex Newbold 6.