SILVER SPRING – As two of the county’s top varsity basketball teams went head to head on a frigid Friday night, fans arrived in droves at Springbrook High School’s gym entrance only to find handwritten sign reading: “we are currently at capacity.” Such demand for tickets meant the crowd was standing-room-only as they watched the visiting Paint Branch Panthers (8-1) topple the Springbrook Blue Devils (8-2) for the fourth time in a row, 83-71.
With guards Richard Dudley and Xavier Reaves finishing with 21 points, and another player – senior forward Chris Mayaka – putting 19 on the board, Paint Branch was able to showcase a wide variety of scoring threats.
The game started off fast-paced and aggressive from the moment of the opening tip-off, as Springbrook senior guard Matthew Balanc put his signature high-energy playing style on full display by fearlessly driving through the paint for layups, and as he used his 6-foot-3 frame to knock one of Dudley’s shots out of the air.
Despite the result, the Blue Devils kept the score close for most of the first quarter, thanks to Balanc's penchant for hitting big buckets, giving him a game-high 27 points and leading to a quarter that featured five ties as both teams fought hard to pull away.
But Paint Branch took control in the second quarter, scoring 12 unanswered points with multiple opportunities in the paint gained by beating Springbrook on the boards. Such turnovers added up and began to haunt the Blue Devils, who trailed by nine points at the half.
“We didn’t protect the basketball, and we have to do some better things defensively,” said Springbrook head coach Darnell Myers. “We’re just as talented and just as good as they are but we didn’t play as smart.”
As the fourth quarter began, the Blue Devils rallied behind Balanc and started to close the scoring gap, as junior guard Timitrius Hawkins twice raced down the court to land back-to-back dunks that brought the Springbrook faithful to their feet as the Blue Devils pulled within five points of the lead.
In response, Dudley unloaded a last-minute highlight reel performance that denied Springbrook any chance of a comeback, as the standout senior juked defenders and spun around in the paint for a layup before flexing his right arm at the joyful Paint Branch student section.
And with just under a minute to play and the Blue Devils trailing by three, Dudley made winning look easy, taking aim at the top of the arc before sinking the three-point bucket that spelled the end of the game for Springbrook.
“I can’t say enough about this group – they’re special, and they know how to play," said Paint Branch head coach Chris Bohlen. "They love playing with each other – it’s just an honor to coach them,”
Myers appeared confident that their second loss of the season would not shake his team.
“We’re Springbrook,” he said. “We’ll be back. This one loss is not going to hurt us. As long as I’ve been here at Springbrook, 14 years, Paint Branch very seldom beat us. Losing four times in a row to them doesn’t mean anything to us.”