It had been more than four months since the Paint Branch High School girls basketball team last took the court, and the rust showed in this weekend’s Under Armour Best of Maryland Basketball Tournament.
But playing against some of the nation’s top teams — in front of 100-plus college coaches — it didn’t take long for the defending 4A North Region champions to regain their form. After dropping their two Saturday games, the Panthers recovered with wins against Sacred Heart (Kentucky), 39-32, and St. John’s College High School, 39-30, Sunday at Damascus High School.
“We were expecting to win but it’s kind of hard when you haven’t played all summer with the team,” said senior Tyra Sinclair, who scored a team-high 12 points against St. John’s. “... I feel like we played much better. We had more passing, cutting. Rebounding, we did very well.”
The Panthers (23-3 last season) elected to forgo summer league with all but two of its players participating in Amateur Athletic Union basketball. The Best of Maryland tournament was their first team competition since March, when they lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Eleanor Roosevelt.
“The kids get a chance to play in front of colleges, and we get a different type of run against teams that play different styles,” Paint Branch coach Rochelle Coleman said. “It’s more just getting exposure.”
Paint Branch struggled early against St. John’s and went into halftime trailing 18-17. The offense was out of sync and shots were flying off-target, some missing the rim altogether.
But the Panthers regrouped in the second half, with 5-foot-10 Kaylyn French and 6-4 Sofilia Ngwafang controlling the boards and helping give the team a victory over the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference school.
“I feel like we did a couple things well,” said senior Daisa Harris, a Drexel recruit and All-Gazette First Team selection (17.8 points per game). “… We got to come with more aggression. This year I feel like we can do that knowing that we have bigs that are going to rebound this year and be there to support as we shoot the ball.”
Paint Branch graduated four seniors, including leading scorer Kiara Colston (Georgian Court), but most of its returning players have been together for two or three seasons, Coleman said.
“There’s a solid chemistry and having the experience going to states, they learned a lot last year going through that,” Coleman said.
Our Lady of Good Counsel (4-0), Walt Whitman (1-3) and Prince George’s County’s Riverdale Baptist (2-2) were among the 22 schools in the tournament. Good Counsel, one of eight teams to qualify for Monday’s playoffs, is scheduled to play Dunbar (Florida) at 10:45 a.m.
“This is a really good way to end the summer,” Good Counsel coach Tom Splaine said. “It’s a good barometer for us after playing summer leagues together.”
Paint Branch 39, St. John’s College 30
St. John’s College 18 12 — 30
Paint Branch 17 22 — 39
Paint Branch: Tyra Sinclair 12, Autumn Ashe 8, Daisa Harris 7, Kaylyn French 4, Sofilia Ngwafang 4.