Walt Whitman High School girls’ basketball coach Pete Kenah knows Montgomery County basketball inside and out arguably better than anyone. So, he knew just how intense Paint Branch’s pressure defense in Friday’s out-of-division contest in Burtonsville would be.
“They put so much pressure on the ball, we brought boys into practice the past two days, we thought it might help prepare us,” Kenah said. “[Paint Branch] just plays with a different kind of intensity.”
Though Whitman scored below its season average 53 points per game in Friday’s 44-43 come-from-behind win, it was its own half-court defense that took away the typically high-scoring Panthers’ transition game and held them to way below their 67.5 points per game average. Most notably, the Vikings (11-2) held Paint Branch’s (10-2) leading-scoring tandem of Daisa Harris and Kiara Colston (32.6 points per game) to just 12 points Friday.
“They have three players who are all averaging more than our leading scorer,” Kenah said. “Our half-court defense, that’s what kept us in it [because] that wasn’t an offensive showcase.”
But the Vikings did make shots when they needed them. Senior Avery Witt hit two of her three 3-point shots in the second half to help Whitman erase a five-point halftime deficit. And it was junior Nicole Fleck’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the game and the Vikings down by two that gave Whitman the lead for good.
It was Whitman’s defense that then stopped Paint Branch’s attempt at its own game-winning 3-pointer, something the typically stingy Panthers defense was unable to do seconds earlier.
“We didn’t play good defense at the end of the game,” Paint Branch coach Rochelle Coleman said. “They hit 3-point shot, they knocked down free throws. We had a defensive lapse but that’s teachable.”
Added Kenah: “I cannot give Nicole enough credit that 3-point shot she made. She had a good shoot around earlier. I’m proud the girls were able to enjoy that moment and then focus.”
On the other end of the spectrum, it was the Panthers’ uncharacteristic missed opportunities that eventually caught up with them.
The Vikings also shot 14-of-18 from the free throw line while Paint Branch converted 8-of-10.
“Whitman is a good team but there were a lot of things that we are in control of that we need to fix, we helped them out by missing a lot of layups,” Coleman said. “The comforting thing is the things we need to work on can be fixed.”
Whitman ended a slow first quarter ahead, 5-4; it took the Vikings four minutes to score a single point. A 22-16 second-quarter run put the Panthers in the lead by five points at halftime, but a 12-6 Whitman run in the third was enough to make the difference.
“Our game plan was the half-court game, to take away their transition game,” Kenah said. “We wanted to make our shots so they couldn’t [run]. ... “I think this gives us confidence to go on the road against a tough team and win. It shows that if we do need to travel for playoffs we can win in this environment.”
Walt Whitman 44, Paint Branch 43
Whitman 5 16 12 11 — 44
Paint Branch 4 22 6 11 — 43
Whitman (11-2) — Avery Witt 13, Marie Hatch 8, Hannah Niles 8, Nicole Fleck 5, Maddie Cannon 3, Abby Meyers 3.
Paint Branch (10-2) — Tyra Sinclair 15, Daisa Harris 10, Autumn Ashe 7, Nicola Ekuban 4, Kiara Colston 2.