Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School won its first-ever state title in boys' basketball, dominating Montgomery County's Walt Whitman 70-43. Coach Rob Garner's team was so dominant that the Vikings' coach Chris Lun said he legitimately “tried everything,” and yet everything wasn't even close to being enough.
That historic performance, which set the championship game record for largest margin of victory, almost didn't happen.
On March 3, the 4A state champion-to-be played host to Suitland in its first playoff game. The Pumas trailed by double-digits in the fourth quarter, and needed a buzzer-beating basket to move onto the next round.
Garner said he sensed a relative lack of respect for Wise, despite an undefeated season in the Prince George's County 4A League as well as a county championship over eventual Class 2A state champion Potomac.
“There's a lot of statements that we wanted to make this year,” Garner said. “I talked about the chips on the shoulder that these guys had and just going throughout the season and always feeling as though we just wasn't quite respected the way that we wanted to be. We wanted to be respected. It was just a challenge. It was just a challenge for our community, our school, our families to be the first team to win a state championship.”
If Garner was correct about the Pumas not quite drawing the awe that Potomac seems to have done with its abundance of high-level talent these past two years, Saturday's state final sent the message he had been waiting on. Though numbers can often be deceiving, the numbers from the Whitman game, and the state tournament as a whole, are extraordinarily lopsided.
A few examples: Whitman attempted five more field goals than Wise, yet scored 27 fewer points. Of Wise's 25 made field goals, 15 were assisted, while only two of the Vikings' 14 were — they also turned it over 15 times, a ratio of 1 to 7.5 assists to turnovers. The Pumas' 54.3 percent shooting from the field more than doubled Whitman's percentage (27.5), and they made the same number of 3-pointers (1) despite shooting 11 fewer.
“We had prepared for them so well,” said Micah Till, who scored 27 points in the two state tournament victories. “Coach gave us a great game plan. We knew that they live and die on threes so we just thought that if we stepped up on defense and pressured their shooters that they wouldn't have anything else to do but shoot contested shots so we just played hard defense and that started our breaks and before you knew it the lead was up.”
And up was the only direction it would go: 8-0, 18-5, 26-9, 33-13, 56-21, all the way to 70-43, the largest margin of victory in 4A state championship history.
Garner said Wise making that sort of statement was nothing personal towards Whitman.
“It didn't matter who we played,” he said.
The Vikings had simply been the last unfortunate victim standing in the way of a runaway freight train. Not even Springbrook, the de facto Montgomery County champion by way of best record, was able to slow, much less stop, the Pumas.
In 64 total minutes of state tournament basketball, Wise never trailed. The Pumas allowed just five total baskets to be assisted and forced Whitman and Springbrook to shoot a combined 29 percent. Jelan Sloan, who provided breathers for Devin Moore and Till throughout the playoffs, summed it up.
“We just work hard and put the effort in practice and it shows in our results,” he said.
The Pumas brought the state championship trophy back to Upper Marlboro, but they also brought back something they value just as much: Respect.