Chalk it up as another win for free throw sticklers.
Just as Montgomery Blair High School had done to Springbrook and Washington Township (N.J.), the Blazers closed out Friday night's 52-43 win against John F. Kennedy at the free throw line, making 6-of-6 down the stretch thanks to junior Trey Wainwright and senior Justin Kung.
“It's just another free throw,” said Wainwright, who finished with eight points, four of which came from the line in the game's final minute. “Just another free throw, just take my time, make the free throw, make it for my team, get the 'W.'”
Sitting on a cushy, 17-point lead at the half, No. 7 Blair seemed ready not just to get the 'W,' but to turn in a puzzlingly lopsided win over the third-ranked Cavaliers. But the patient efficiency that had been the key to the Blazers' first-half success — they shot 14-22 from the field — turned into over-caution, “stall mode,” as coach Damon Pigrom called it.
“We got away with what we were doing in the first half,” Pigrom said. “As a coaching staff, we have to do a better job. We were stressing being patient but I think somewhere from our mouth to their ears, I think we went into stall mode. We stopped being the aggressor.”
While Blair's half-court offense slowed to a halt, Kennedy's seemed to realize a little more urgency was needed. Marcus Murray logged his first points of the night on the opening possession of the third quarter to spark a 10-2 Kennedy run that chopped the deficit to 12. A little more than halfway through the third, Blair's Danny Canary made a nifty up-and-under layup to extend it back to 14. That would be the last field goal made by a Blazer all night.
Murray and Kennedy proceeded to take over from there, knocking down pull-ups and 3-pointers, slowly chipping away at Blair's once-commanding lead.
“He's just too good,” Pigrom said. “He's going to do what he wants.”
So with 3 minutes and 1 second left to play, it was fitting that it was Murray who hit a jumper from the corner to give Kennedy its first lead since the Cavs were up 5-4 in the first quarter. But that would also be the last time they held an advantage. Damar Bess locked down Murray for the rest of the game, just as he had done to hold him scoreless for the opening 16 minutes, and Blair made the most of the clock-stopping free throws to put the lead out of reach.
Bess buried 3-of-4, Raymond Burtnick, who scored eight in Blair's 20-point first quarter, chipped in another, and Kung and Wainwright finished it out 6-for-6 in the final minute to seal the win for the Blazers.
“We've been hitting them all year, we've been hitting them all year,” said Bess, who scored a game-high 16 points while hitting 5-of-6 from the free throw line. “We can always count on [Trey] in the clutch to knock those free throws down.”
In securing the win, Blair has now knocked off three division rivals — Springbrook, Blake, Kennedy — since the start of the new year and advances to 3-2 in the hyper-competitive 4A East. And with Paint Branch losing to Springbrook in overtime tonight, that leaves the Blazers with just Sherwood ahead of them.
“There's no easy nights in the division,” Pigrom said. “It is what it is. Hopefully theses tests during the season will get us ready for playoffs.”
Blair 52, Kennedy 43
Blair (8-4, 3-2) 20 16 4 12—52
Kennedy (9-4, 2-3) 12 7 13 11—43
Blair—Damar Bess 16; Raymond Burtnick 11; Danny Canary 8; Trey Wainwright 8; Justin Kung 7; Julian Smith-Jones 2.
Kennedy—Marcus Murray 14; Jared Williams 9; Alex Brown 8; David Singleton 6; Mark Robinson 4; Lawrence Feldman 2.