Friday, March 9, 2007

A civil war: It’s Sherwood vs. Magruder for state basketball title

Montgomery Madness hits the courts at Comcast Center

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Magruder High forward Donald Robinson goes for the reverse layup as Eleanor Roosevelt forward Darnell Dodson tries for the block during Thursday evening's Class 4A state semifinals at Comcast Center in College Park. Magruder beat Roosevelt, 63-61, to advance to the final Saturday at Comcast Center at 8 p.m. against neighborhood rival Sherwood - 58-44 winners over Glen Burnie in the other semifinal.
So what happens when a local rivalry moves to the biggest stage in the state?

Call it Montgomery Madness.

Sherwood and Magruder high schools glare at one another across five miles’ worth of Olney, Sandy Spring and Rockville. On Saturday night at 8 at Comcast Center, a good number of the people who live within that five-mile stretch will be at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, when the two schools square off for the Class 4A boys basketball state championship.

Senior Justin Taylor put Magruder in the final by nailing a short jumper with one second remaining to give the Colonels a 63-61 win over Prince George’s County’s Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Raiders’ sensational 6-foot-7 University of Pittsburgh recruit, Darnell Dodson, had hit a game-tying 25-foot three-pointer with 36 seconds to play. With seven seconds to play, Taylor got the ball at the top of the key, came off a screen and sprinted into the lane, where he calmly stroked the game-winner.

‘‘I’m normally the one who distributes,” said the 5-foot-7 Taylor, who hit the only two shots he took in the game. ‘‘I just happened to get the ball, and knew I had to make the shot. I was looking for one of our better shooters. But I saw the clock, and I knew I had to get it off.”

The nightcap didn’t have nearly the drama, as Sherwood ran out to an 18-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and were never really threatened after that in a 58-44 win over Glen Burnie (20-6), of Anne Arundel County, in the other semifinal.

When the Gophers closed the gap to six points early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors put the ball in the hands of senior Deontay Twyman. Twyman scored four straight to restore a double-digit advantage, and wound up leading all scorers with 22 points.

His performance put him in his third state championship game in the last two years. Sherwood (22-4) has finished as the state runner-up in football the past two falls, but Saturday will mark its first trip to the state basketball final since 1987.

‘‘This will probably be the [final] that I’m most ready for,” Twyman said. ‘‘Sherwood’s gotten a reputation as a choke artist the last two years in football. We’ve got a great opponent in Magruder, and it’ll be a great game.”

In the early game, Taylor’s jumper snuffed out what had been a dogged comeback by the Raiders, of Prince George’s County. Dodson led all scorers with 27 points, but Magruder held him without a field goal for over six minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Colonels shot 55 percent from the floor in the game, including 65 percent in the second half. They led after each quarter — 17-14 after one, 27-22 after two and 44-39 after three. The lead was up to 10, 57-47, with four minutes left before Eleanor Roosevelt made its comeback.

‘‘That was a great high school basketball game tonight,” Raiders coach Brendan O’Connell said. ‘‘They made one more play than we did down the stretch.”

The end result is the first all-Montgomery County basketball final in state history, at any level, boys or girls. The last all-Montgomery state tournament game was between the Quince Orchard and Springbrook boys in 1991.

The fact that this game pits not only two teams from the same county, but two of that county’s fiercest rivals, adds another level to the affair. The Warriors beat the Colonels twice during the regular season, by a total of three points, and won the 4A East Division from them.

‘‘This will be the game that probably everybody’s going to talk about,” Sherwood coach Dondrell Whitmore said. ‘‘It’s going to be fun. We’re already hearing that we can’t beat them three times. But I think three times is the charm.”

The player most responsible for setting up the dream finals matchup has played in a few of these rivalry games before. As a safety on the football team, Taylor helped Magruder upset Sherwood on the gridiron last fall.

‘‘Earlier in the season, we beat them in football, and they came back and ended up going to the state final,” Taylor said. ‘‘They beat us during the [basketball] regular season, and now we’re going to play for the state championship.”

Notes: Montgomery County went three for three at Comcast Center Thursday. Bethesda-Chevy Chase’s boys team beat Largo, 75-63, in the Class 3A semifinals earlier in the day.