The Paint Branch High School basketball team had played Friday’s type of game several times before: establish a significant halftime lead, hit the cruise control button and coast to victory.
It’s what the Panthers did against Watkins Mill in the season opener on Dec. 7 when they held a 26-point advantage at the break en route to a surprisingly easy 79-48 win. Easy wins over Thomas S. Wootton (70-47) and Richard Montgomery (75-60) followed and, on Friday, Montgomery Blair would be no different.
Turnovers doomed the Blazers and they fell into a 24-6 hole at the end of the first quarter. A little less than three minutes into the second, Paint Branch’s lead stretched to 20. By the half it was 23.
“We try to warm up hard and just come out real hard and just come out aggressive, like real intense. We try to keep up the intensity,” said senior guard Jordan Radway, the team’s leading scorer on the season who finished with 11 points in Paint Branch’s 74-56 victory on Friday. “Even in practice we go real hard. We try to push each other. It’s a real close group so we stay on each other’s back about the intensity and we just try to stay aggressive on teams so we get out to a fast start.”
In a game that Paint Branch (6-0) never trailed, the Panthers had five players finish in double-digit scoring. Sharp-shooting forward Dom Ortiz had a game-high 14 points, Justin Hackley didn’t miss a field goal or free throw the entire night to match Radway with 11 and Tristan Toliver and Tre Galloway both recorded 10 points.
“These guys have been playing together for awhile and they’re just real unselfish. You know, we have almost five guys averaging double-figures right now,” Panthers coach Walter Hardy said. “Our assist numbers are way high and part of that is because we’re getting out on the break and we’re running ... we got a lot of guys that can shoot and if someone’s open, [we] pass them the ball. We get in trouble when we start dribbling too much.”
Leading the assist effort on Friday was Galloway, who finished with eight, several of which were byproducts of his four steals. He was followed by Toliver’s six.
“You might score 21 one night and two the next,” Hardy said. “The ultimate goal is victory and the kids are down with that.”
The win is especially momentous for the Panthers as Springbrook, the county’s only other undefeated team entering the night, lost to James H. Blake, making Paint Branch the de facto No. 1 public team in Montgomery County.
Conversely, Blair, after enjoying a promising 4-0 start, is now in full tailspin. The Blazers suffered their first lost to Quince Orchard on Wednesday, a 21-point drubbing— the Cougars also handed Blake its only loss — and have now dropped two straight.
“I hoped [the start] would foster some sort of confidence in our guys, and it has to a point, but these last two games we just haven’t competed,” Blair coach Damon Pigrom said. “[Paint Branch is] good. Right now we’re just very impatient right now. They started off patient. Even with our scrimmages, and I know they’re just scrimmages … but we scrimmaged some athletic teams and their pressure didn’t bother us so I’m a little perplexed right now with some of the things we’re trying to do.”
Paint Branch 74, Blair 56
Paint Branch (6-0) 24 19 15 16—74
Blair (4-2) 6 14 17 19—56
Paint Branch—Dom Ortiz 14; Jordan Radway 11; Justin Hackley 11; Tristan Toliver 10; Tre Galloway 10; Jason Scott 8; John Onukaogu 7; Reuben Edwards 2; Armando Nwizu 1.
Blair—Danny Canary 12; Julian Smith-Jones 12; Trey Wainwright 10; Damar Bess 8; Raymond Burtnick 8; Wynston Reed 4; Anthony Davis 2.