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J.J. Epps returns as Magruder rolls

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Published on: Thursday, January 31, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE - Despite a sloppy first half, the Magruder High School boys’ basketball team overcame Northwest High School 71-42 Monday after surrendering just three baskets in the second half.

Magruder, the defending 4A state champions (13-1, 6-0), welcomed back the return of senior guard J.J. Epps, who missed the last month with a broken right hand. However, after some missed easy shots and careless turnovers, Epps and his Colonels’ teammates found themselves trailing 32-31 at halftime.

“I think the first half we were just a little rusty,” said Magruder coach Dan Harwood. “We had some turnovers we don’t normally have. Luckily, Nick Griffin kept us in the game in the first half and then the second half I think we got our rust out. We went to more of a half-court zone pressure and that got us going.”

Senior guard Nick Griffin kept the Colonels in the game with five 3-pointers in the first half. Griffin finished the game with 26 points on nine-of-15 shooting, including seven total 3-pointers. As a team, Magruder hit 11 3-point shots.

 Before coming out to play the second half, Epps, who finished the game with six points, said Harwood emphasized defense in the locker room.

“(Coach Harwood) just mainly said we wouldn’t want to end this game with a loss and have them celebrating on our home floor,” Epps said. “Then he said defense is the key to winning games. He said our defense was going to lead to our offense.”

Magruder came out with a vengeance to start the second half, opening the half on a 15-4 run to take a 46-36 lead. After Northwest (8-7, 3-4) cut the lead to eight points with just more than two minutes left in the third quarter, Magruder went on a 15-0 run.

While Northwest shot 32.7 percent from the field for the game, Magruder’s defense held the team to only three baskets the entire second half. Magruder outscored Northwest 40-10 during the half.

“It was a great second half,” Harwood said. “The energy level was definitely, I think the guys were really disappointed. They hadn’t really been down at half. They’re not used to being down at half. They kind of got together and came out with great energy.”

For Northwest, the loss is a learning experience, coach Usman Jamil said. After playing aggressively in the first half and forcing the Magruder players to think more on offense, Jamil said his team struggled to hit shots in the second half while Magruder was able to run its offense exactly as it wanted to.

“Every time we play one of these marquee programs in the county we always, we’re trying to win but any time win or loss we’re taking something from the game,” Jamil said. “From this, we probably put together one of our better halves we’ve played all year. We’ve been talking a lot about being aggressive offensively and getting to the rim better.”

Senior guard Elliot Gambrell led Northwest with 12 points. Senior guard, the team’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points, but none in the second half.

The win was Magruder’s eighth in a row since losing to Springbrook High School Dec. 19, as the team maintains its lead in the Maryland 4A West division. For Northwest, the loss is the team’s fifth in its last seven games.

Magruder senior forward Justin Witmer scored 17 points in the win, hitting seven of his 14 shots, including two 3-pointers.

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