With Montgomery Blair High School's gymnasium packed for the 4A West Region boys basketball championship game on Friday night, the Col. Zadok Magruder Colonels left no doubt in anyone's mind who the top team in the region was.
After a dominant first quarter in which they allowed only one point, the Colonels cruised past Quince Orchard in a 47-30 win, giving Magruder its third consecutive region title.
“It feels pretty great,” said senior guard Nick Griffin, who led all scorers with 16 points. “Not many programs get the chance to win a regional championship. So to win it three times in a row definitely holds a significant place in Magruder history. It's great.”
Magruder is scheduled to play Baltimore Polytechnic in the state semifinals at 7 p.m., March 14 at the University of Maryland, College Park's Comcast Center.
Leading by 15 points in the third quarter, Magruder had its biggest scare of the game when senior point guard J.J. Epps fell down in his offensive end after a jump shot, writhing in pain and clutching his right hand as the Cougars returned turn their offensive zone. It was the same right hand that he broke earlier in the season against Springbrook.
“I hope it's not broke,” Epps said was the first thing that crossed his mind after the fall. “It hurts still but I'll be alright.”
Epps (8 points) went to the bench, was examined and was given an ice pack. At one point, he covered his face with his jersey as the game continued. He had an ice pack on after the game. Epps returned in the fourth quarter, much to Magruder coach Dan Harwood's delight.
“I wanted to get him back in there and get it out of his system. Make sure he was OK,” Harwood said.
Quince Orchard, which was led by Charles Porter's 11 points, did not make a field goal until 1:32 had passed in the second quarter. Porter scored the Cougars' only first-quarter point, a free throw with just less than two minutes into play.
Their inconsistency shooting had something to do with playing in an important game, Quince Orchard coach Paul Foringer said. But it also had to do with Magruder's man-to-man defense, which made penetration and entry passes nearly impossible and forced the Cougars to take outside shots, which didn't fall.
The Cougars made nine field goals in the game.
“One of the things we talked about was making sure we took good shots and not wasting good opportunities,” Foringer said while laughing. “Some of the things I saw in the first quarter, I haven't seen on a playground. It was all just crap. I don't know why other than this event, being on this stage, it might have been a little too much for us. We're young, we haven't experienced this. We had a Cinderella season. And coming here, we kind of threw it away rather than just jumping in. So falling behind by  in the first quarter, we couldn't make that up. Not against the defending state champions.
“It's kind of like David and Goliath but David forgot to being the sling. We were throwing with our hands and that wasn't going to get it done.”
Said Harwood, “We really wanted to make Charlie work. We switched on every screen. Charlie's in such great shape, he has such a great motor, there was someone on him all night tonight. Whether it be Matt [Ricketts], Nick, J.J. or Justin [Witmer], They just did a super job. Tyrii Jackson came in a gave us great defense. You know, we pride ourselves on being a good offensive team. We have some shooters, we have some great ball movement, but deep down, it starts with the defense and our defense was fantastic tonight.”
Magruder turned the ball over more than it would have liked — 16 times, four in each quarter — but displayed ball movement which could create problems for any opponent.
On several possessions, the Colonels wouldn't even dribble the ball, circumventing the Cougars defense with quick, accurate and decisive passes to find open men for jump shots or layups.
“Every day in practice we work on the same thing,” Griffin said. “Coach Harwood does a great job in instilling the offense and he has guys that can run it. It works well.”
Both Harwood and Griffin said Magruder, which won the 4A state title last year, will savor this win, but their concentration isn't on repeating as state champions. It's just on winning the next game.
“It's the same feeling. We're just trying to come in focused,” Griffin said. “We're going to try to get better until Thursday and try to win.”
Magruder 47, Quince Orchard 30
Quince Orchard 1 10 10 9 — 30
Magruder 12 16 15 4 — 47
Quince Orchard (18-7): Charles Porter 11, Andrew Fink 6, Tobin Pagley 5, Eric Hoadley 3, Aaron King 2, Chris Wilson 2, Miles Davis 1
Magruder (23-2): Nick Griffin 16, Justin Witmer 11, J.J. Epps 8, Brian Coleman 5, Joe Hugley 4, Matt Ricketts 3