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Magruder heads into playoffs on a high note

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Published on: Thursday, February 21, 2013

By Holden Wilen

BETHESDA - The Magruder High School boys’ basketball team defeated Churchill High School 67-42 Tuesday night, its seventh straight win going into the playoffs.

Despite turning over the ball more than they would probably like, the Colonels (20-2), the Montgomery County 4A West Division champions, led by as many 27 points, and shot a scorching 55 percent from the field in the win. The team, known for its three-point shooting, hit eight shots from downtown.

“We just looked dead and not enthusiastic for key possessions,” said Churchill head coach Matt Miller. “With a team like that, they’re eventually going to make you pay. Every time we took a play off they made us pay. We couldn’t buy a bucket there for a while, and we forced some shots. I think at the end of the day it showed if you don’t play a really good game, Magruder’s going to make you pay.

Magruder senior guards J.J. Epps and Nick Griffin combined to score 35 of the team’s 67 points. Griffin scored a game-high 20 points on 7-12 shooting, including three three-pointers, while Epps finished with 15 points on 7-12 shooting.

With the win Magruder ended Churchill’s three-game winning streak. In its last three games Magruder has beaten Paint Branch, the Montgomery County 4A East Division champions, rival Sherwood on the road, and now Churchill on the road.

Before the game against Paint Branch, Magruder coach Dan Harwood said he wanted to see his team challenged entering the playoffs. Epps said he thinks the team has answered the challenge.

“I definitely think we’re ready for the playoffs, especially us seniors,” Epps said. “We have eight seniors so we’ve been waiting for this. It’s our last year. I feel like we’re taking the challenge as it is. We’re going ahead with it and not taking any backdoors. We’re taking it head on.”

Churchill presented a tough challenge for Magruder, Griffin said, because of the team’s size and physical style of play.

“This will definitely help us get ready,” Griffin said. “Churchill was a big team—physical, athletic and they’re football players. We knew they were going to come out and be physical so it helps us get ready for the kind of play we’re going to face in the playoffs.”

For Churchill, the loss creates more questions than answers for a youthful team with only two seniors. Miller said the team will take the next nine days before its first playoff game to take time prepare reflect on itself. It’s important the team grow from the loss, he said.

“Our team has shown it can be a little two-faced at times,” Miller said. “We can play with anybody, and we can play down to anybody. If we’re bought in, energetic and enthusiastic, I’m pretty confident in this group. They’re very young and with young teams you’re going to have lulls. Sometimes you have to learn by experience, or touching the burner as opposed to listening to what the coaches are preaching.”

Aside from the loss, the night was also a celebration for the two senior Bulldogs, guard Dominique Williams and forward Bryant Wheatley. Williams finished with 10 points in the game, while Wheatley scored eight points. Miller said both players have played instrumental roles during their careers in the team’s success. This third consecutive season the Bulldogs have won the Montgomery County 4A East Division.

Miller said the team would love to honor its senior stars by going on an extended playoff run.

Meanwhile, the Magruder seniors hope to go on a run of their own, hopefully culminating in a second consecutive state championship.

“It will definitely be a great way to end senior year,” Griffin said, “but we’re going to just try and take it one game at a time and try to work hard every day in practice and wait for our opportunity to come.”

Magruder is the number-one seed in the Maryland 4A West region, while Churchill earned the number-two seed. The teams could potentially meet for a rematch in the regional finals.

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