The only indication that the kid sprawled out midway up the Suitland High School bleachers, dressed in all black sweats and a beanie, was best player in the gym, if not the Prince George’s County, was to perhaps take a glance at his sneakers, loosely tied high-top basketball shoes.
FRoddy Peters hasn’t played since Dec. 20. For the first three quarters of the first-round playoff game between Suitland and Bladensburg, it was a wonder how the Rams had managed to go 10-6 without their University of Maryland-bound leader.
A Gerard Gray layup to open the fourth quarter brought the answers flooding forth. His basket gave the Rams the lead for the first time since the score was 8-5 in the first quarter. That seemed to wake the Suitland offense that had been relatively dormant for the first 24 minutes. Gray tacked on seven more points in the final quarter — he finished with a game-high 14 — Savon Walker buried five free throws in the closing minutes and Suitland survived a rubber match with the Mustangs, advancing to Thursday’s regional quarterfinals with a 53-43 win.
“When we lost to them, we lost to them at home,” said Gray, referencing a 68-64 defeat to the Mustangs on Feb. 1. “It was kind of an embarrassment to our school. I’m satisfied now, I feel good.”
For how much the Rams struggled on the offensive end, their defense was equally as strong. Bladensburg, which closed the season 4-2 after beginning 1-13 and losing its first eight games, shot just 8-for-32 in the first half, failing to find any sort of rhythm despite boasting two of the league’s more combustible guards in Mike Jones and Arsene Che.
Jones had scored 45 points earlier in the season against Henry A. Wise and Che had dialed up 37 against Charles H. Flowers, but the Rams limited the duo to just eight combined first half points on 3-for-14 shooting.
“Bladensburg was intense. I thought they took the fight to us a little bit more than we did to start the game,” Suitland coach George McClure said. “But the whole time I thought, if we can just get over the hump, if we can just hang in there and hang in there, I thought we’d have a good shot.”
Finally, after Gray served as the offensive alarm clock early in the fourth, Suitland showed the true colors of the team that is now 11-6 in the absence of one of the area’s top guards. The defense stayed true, limiting the Mustangs to just two fourth quarter field goals on 14 attempts, while the offense put up 21 points in the final eight minutes on 11-of-13 shooting from the free throw line.
“I can’t say enough,” McClure said of his team’s success post-Peters. “It’s really been fun watching these guys develop. They’ve believed in each other from pretty much from the day they became one I guess you could say, and they’ve just gotten better and better and they believe in each other and it’s just been a lot of fun to coach them.”
On Thursday, Suitland travels to Springdale where they will see Flowers, a team the Rams beat on both occasions this season.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season,” Gray said. “So tomorrow in practice we’re going to try and match the intensity we had today.”
Suitland 53, Bladensburg 43
Suitland 8 13 11 21—53
Bladensburg 12 10 11 10—43
Suitland (14-9; 12-7): Gerard Gray 14; Marquette Brown 13; Chris Morgan 8; Savon Walker 8; Tyree Wallace 4; Darryl Smith 3; Antonio Parks 3.
Bladensburg (5-16; 4-14): Dajon Lowe 13; Mike Jones 9; Arsene Che 8; Rakwon Credle-Titus 7; Lonnel Kealoha 6.