Before Justice Sneed would bury the three free throws that iced the Prince George's County boys' basketball championship for his Henry A. Wise High School team, he first had to remove the tooth — or what he thinks was a tooth — that had been lodged in his head.
Late in the fourth quarter Thursday, his Pumas, the 4A League victor, up 60-57 over 3A/2A/1A League champ Potomac, Sneed got in a tussle with a few Wolverine defenders — nothing cheap, just hard-nosed defense in a tight game with high stakes. A foul was called and, the situation calling for a one-and-one, Sneed went to the free throw line. That was before the refs noticed the blood trickling out of the senior point guard's head, and Kyle Hill was called in to replace as Sneed jogged to grab some ice and a towel.
Hill hit both ends in Sneed's stead, and when Sneed returned, head cleaned out, he knocked down 6-of-8 free throws in the final 2 minutes, 52 seconds to lift the Pumas to a 68-64 victory in front of a capacity crowd at Wise.
“It's a great feeling and I told you we've been working hard for it,” said Sneed, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 5-of-9 shooting. “I'm just glad we were able to win against a great team like Potomac, get us going into the playoffs.”
Wise coach Rob Garner actually smiled a bit when he was told Sneed thought a Potomac player's tooth had sunk deep enough into his head to draw blood. That's a daily occurrence at Wise. “We have practices like that every day,” he said. “You know, a little bit of blood, some sweat, a couple tears. That's every day at Wise. We prepare every single day for championships.”
Physical toughness aside, Wise's mental mettle is what kept the championship from slipping away. After leading by as much as 13 in the first half on four Sneed 3-pointers and 10 points from Lavonte Sanders, Wise watched it evaporate in a matter of eight minutes.
The Wolverines shot themselves out of their first-half slump, getting five points from Randall Broddie, six from Dion Wiley, and six more apiece from Anthony Smith and Quadree Smith. The Pumas' 50 percent shooting in the first half took a precipitous drop, going 5-for-17 in the third quarter, and Potomac had made up all 12 points of the deficit they inherited out of the locker room.
“We knew coming out in the second half they were going to give us their best shot because we've all seen Potomac play and that's not how Potomac plays,” Sneed said. “We knew they were going to start out trying to go one-on-one with us so we just had to keep our composure, play as a team, shut it down, and keep playing our game.”
With 2:05 remaining, Broddie flipped in a scoop layup to hand Potomac a 63-62 lead. Over the next 125 seconds, Sneed would outscore the Wolverines 6-1, all on free throws, all just a few minutes after his head had been a makeshift mouth guard for one unfortunate Potomac player.
“Besides me?” retorted a laughing Micah Till when asked if he would rather have anybody at the line late in the game than Sneed. “Nah, Justice is good.”
Wise 68, Potomac 64
Wise (19-2, 17-0) 20 20 11 17 — 68
Potomac (18-4, 15-2) 14 14 23 13 — 64
Wise: Justice Sneed 22, Micah Till 18, Lavonte Sanders 14, Devin Moore 8, Lorenzo Drummond 4, Kyle Hill 2.
Potomac: Anthony Smith 20, Dion Wiley 17, Randall Broddie 14, Quadree Smith 13.