Following a triumph in the state Class 4A South Region Section I final against visiting Charles H. Flowers High School's boys' basketball team, Henry A. Wise coach Robert Garner said his team's season had just begun.
And for reasons, perhaps, only the program could understand.
“We had a saying this season that we weren't starting from Game 1, we were starting from that game,” Garner said alluding to a painful loss to eventual 2013 4A state champion Eleanor Roosevelt in last season's region final. “Our season now begins. Right now. This is where we left off at. This is what we said is that we wanted to get back to where we were.”
The Pumas won the 2009 4A South Region title and after a five year wait, the program gets another shot at the honor after defeating the Jaguars, 67-52, Thursday night in Upper Marlboro.
Wise (20-2) is scheduled to play DuVal 3 p.m. Saturday at Oxon Hill with a shot at the state semifinals on the line.
The Pumas think they will have plenty to draw upon against the Tigers.
“Last year's experience was very good for us as far as having poise in this type of situation,” Pumas senior forward Micah Till said. “Losing to a great team like Roosevelt, who won the state championship, by only one, showed us that we're capable of being a state championship team. Getting that far helped us to get where we are today.”
Till finished the game against Flowers with 15 points and set the pace for the night, scoring 10 points in the game's first 8 minutes, 29 seconds.
When Till cooled, his senior point guard Justice Sneed began to heat up and scored half of the Pumas' 12 points in the second quarter on two connections from outside the 3-point arc to help the Pumas hold a six-point advantage, 34-28, at halftime.
The Jaguars eventually cut the lead to, 38-36, with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter. But from the point, the Pumas took control of the game.
Sneed, who finished with a game-high 17 points, explained how his squad adjusted.
“We know basketball is a game of runs and we knew that [Flowers] was going to make one. At first we were in man-to-man [defense] but then we dropped back into a 2-3 [zone] and forced them to shoot. In that defense, we had help on their post players. What they wanted to do is work their [post] and then run out on the fast break and our defense slowed them down,” Sneed said.
Indeed, Wise's adjustment was effective as the Jaguars made just four field goals in the game's final 13 minutes.
The Jaguars (17-6) found no answers from the perimeter or inside to end the game. Jaguars senior forward Clint Robinson finished with a team-high 15 points, but feels that the program is on an upward incline in seasons to come.
“I feel that the foundation is there. Tonight we just let it get away in the third quarter. I feel we were in the game up until that point. A couple turnovers and a couple missed shots, it got away from us,” Robinson said.
Though a tough loss for second-year Jaguars coach Mark Edwards, he agrees with Robinson that the team is built for future success, but has more in mind whenever his players take the court.
“I think we had a good season,” Edwards said. “At the bigger end of the spectrum, I want to build men. I want guys to go to college and come back and help our community and help our program. That's all I want. This type of adversity is in life.”
Henry A. Wise 67, Charles H. Flowers 52
Flowers 12 16 13 11—52
Wise 22 12 17 16—67
Wise — Justice Sneed 17; Micah Till 15; Lavonte Sanders 10; Devin Moore 7; Trevor Brown 6
Flowers — Patrick Johnson 15; Juwan Weldon 13; Clint Robinson 12; Mykal Johnson 5; Devin Shuler 4