This story was corrected on Sunday, Jan. 6. An explanation at the bottom of the story.John Onukaogu, the center for the Paint Branch High School boys basketball team, assured coach Walter Hardy that he was ready to go prior to Friday's contest against James H. Blake.
“He was down about last night [a 55-52 loss to Sherwood],” Hardy said. “[Onukaogu] said, 'Oh, I lost the game. I missed some layups. I missed some foul shots.' So I called him [after the game] and I just told him, 'You didn't lose the game, we all miss some layups. I probably should have called a time out, you know, whatever.' So he came out tonight, and told me, 'I'm ready,'”
Onukaogu proved just how prepared he was for the rival Bengals by contributing 12 blocks, 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers to a 51-43 victory in Burtonsville.
“It feels great,” he said. “This is my senior year, and there are a lot of seniors on the team. We lost to them last year, so we had to get them back.”
Paint Branch jumped out to a big lead early, scoring the first 12 points of the contest, and leading by as much as 15 points in the first quarter. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Tre Galloway and Dom Ortiz highlighted the run for the Panthers (9-1).
Blake responded over the next two frames and eventually tied the score at 30 on a Demonte Ojinnaka basket with 3 minutes, 27 seconds to play in the third quarter. Ojinnaka converted an old-fashioned 3-point play a minute later and it was followed by a conventional 3-pointer from Breon Hebert to give the Bengals (6-4) their largest lead of the contest at 36-30.
“Our kids have a little fight,” Blake coach Marcus Wiggins said. “I mean, this is a neighborhood game, and our kids fought to get back in the game, but we didn't sustain it. We are very similar teams in a lot of ways. Both teams are going to have some peaks and some valleys, just their peak came at the beginning of the game. I was very proud of our team for not folding, we just need to finish strong and do a better job with the lead.”
Consecutive field goals from Paint Branch's Armando Nwizu knotted the score at 36 apiece heading into the fourth quarter, and the host Panthers never trailed again. Hardy believes the loss to Springbrook from the night before played a factor down the stretch for his team, but in a positive way.
“I think last night was in their heads a little bit, and they didn't want it to slip away like last night,” he said. “They came out with a little bit of fire in them [in the fourth quarter], so that's good.”
Paint Branch 51, Blake 43
Blake (6-4) 5 16 15 7 -- 43
Paint Branch (9-1) 19 10 7 15 -- 51
Blake: Demonte Ojinnaka 11; Akindele Jones 10; Tavon Ngangum 9; A.J. Butts 7; Breon Herbert 3; Dashante Brown 3.
Paint Branch: Tristan Tolliver 11; John Onukaogu 11; Tre Galloway 9; Armando Nwizu 6; Dom Ortiz 5; Jordan Radway 4; Justin Hackley 3; Desmond Harris 2.The original version of this report had misidentified the team that first beat Paint Branch. It was Sherwood.