All nine of Gwynn Park High School senior Isaiah Martin's blocks in Wednesday's Class 2A South Region Section II semifinal against the visiting Largo boys' basketball team were important. They did, after all, prevent the ball from going into the basket. But there was one, in particular, that came at quite the opportune time.
Four consecutive free throws from Mike Pegram had given Gwynn Park a three-point lead with just over two seconds remaining in regulation. Largo had one option to keep itself in the game: Go for the 3-point shot. As the Yellow Jackets expected, the Lions got the ball straight to its 3-point extraordinaire Aaron Thomas — 40 3-pointers this season — but as Thomas jumped up, the ball above his head ready to be released, the 6-foot-7 Martin's hand came crashing down on it and Largo's chances at evening the score. Martin was immediately fouled and converted one of two free throw attempts to put the game completely out of reach for good, 45-41.
The Yellow Jackets' (16-7) win Wednesday avenged a seven-point loss to the Lions (16-8) on Feb. 20, Gwynn Park's last game before the section semifinals; the Yellow Jackets defeated Largo in the teams' first 2013-14 meeting. Gwynn Park is expected to travel to the section's top seed, Potomac High, a semifinal winner over Frederick Douglass, for Thursday evening's scheduled section final.
“That was a great win for the team and a great win for the program,” eighth-year Gwynn Park coach Michael Glick said. “We hadn't played for 13 days and our last game was [the loss] to Largo. We hadn't practiced since Saturday. ... That game was typical of our league. Everyone's beating everyone, everyone's so evenly matched.”
Both teams were held to season lows Wednesday, but in particular, it was just the second time the high-scoring Largo offense failed to reached the 60-point mark. The Yellow Jackets' 2-3 zone defense did its job, keeping Largo's 6-8 leading scorer Abdulai Bundu well below his 24.7 points per-game average at just 16 points. Gwynn Park also limited Thomas (13.3 points per game) to just five points.
“Our focus was packing it in [in the 2-3 zone] and denying [Thomas] the 3-pointer,” Pegram said. “I think it was good win to show our ability to win the close games.”
Though the Yellow Jackets were outsized, Glick said he was proud of the way his players stayed “active on the boards,” especially senior Evan Joiner who played down low and way above his 5-10 stature.
It was more than two minutes before Gwynn Park scored a single point Wednesday — senior Cedric Hines ended the drought with his first of many lucrative drives to the rim. The Yellow Jackets quickly erased a four-point deficit to take a 9-8 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Largo again took a four-point lead late in the second quarter, only for Gwynn Park to finish the half ahead by one point, 18-17. The Yellow Jackets seemed to have settled into the contest with a 5-0 run to start the second half but this time it was Largo's chance to make a comeback. The Lions went ahead by two points late in the third quarter but with the teams' tied at 28-28, it was a Martin 3-pointer — off a great Hines drive and kick — followed by a block at the other end of the court that gave Gwynn Park a three-point lead heading into the final period. The teams traded leads several times in the fourth quarter but ultimately the Yellow Jackets converted when given the opportunity.
“This was our third time playing each other and both teams are very good teams,” Glick said. “We did not want to let [Bundu] beat us. We wanted to slow it down, grind out the game and make free throws. [Pegram] has been our best free throw shooter but he struggled at the beginning of the season so I was happy to see him step up.”
Gwynn Park 45, Largo 41
Largo 8 9 11 13 — 41
Gwynn Park 9 9 13 14 — 45
Largo (16-8) — Abdulai Bundu 16, Isiah Boggs 9, Nathaniel Manning 9, Aaron Thomas 5, David Luckett 2.
Gwynn Park (16-7) — Evan Joiner 13, Cedric Hines 10, Mike Pegram 7, Anwar Mack 6, Isaiah Martin 6, Jayson Johnson 2, Marquis Holland 1.