GAITHERSBURG — On Friday, the Gaithersburg Trojans proved that its breakout season is the real deal, as they defeated the visiting Richard Montgomery Rockets 45-42.
The Rockets have been the top seed in its section each of the last three years, but this season, Gaithersburg has emerged as a contender. By beating Richard Montgomery, the Trojans proved that they truly will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the season, and into the playoffs.
The Trojans’ star freshman duo of Jao Ituka and Jordan Hawkins, as well as the rest of the Gaithersburg team, didn’t have a very quick start. Gaithersburg didn’t get on the board until nearly midway through the first quarter, but quickly made up the deficit they had fallen into. Behind Ituka’s five first-quarter points, Gaithersburg closed the gap to 15-12 at the end of the first quarter.
The Trojans carried the momentum they had at the end of the first quarter into the second. For the second straight quarter, Gaithersburg came out hot to start the second half. The Trojans began to build a lead, up to 11 points at its largest. The Trojans began to hit three-pointers in the third quarter, after struggling during the first half, which propelled the team on its run.
The Rockets drove very well in the first half and were able to get to the free-throw line. Quickly, Gaithersburg took the lead, and at halftime, the Trojans led 23-20.
Down 37-27 to start the fourth quarter, the Rockets were able to make a comeback. The Rockets held Gaithersburg off the board until free throws from Hawkins with less than three minutes to play in the game and got back in the game. All of the sudden, the Trojans lead was down to two points.
The tight score made for a thrilling final minute of the game. The Rockets dominated the offensive glass in the final minutes, giving them second-chance opportunities to attempt to get the three-pointer they needed after the Trojans went one of two from the line.
The Rockets, however, were unable to make the three-point shot they needed, as star Daryn Alexander was never really able to get comfortable in this game, and as a result, didn’t match his usual performance.
In the final 15 seconds, a rebounded Richard Montgomery shot went out of bounds, but controversially, officials ruled that the ball last touched one of the Rockets before going out. The Rockets fouled Ituka on the inbounds play, causing him to miss the front end of a one-and-one and giving the Rockets one more chance with nine seconds left. Alexander dribbled up the court and found Devon Liyanamana wide open behind the arc. Liyanamana shot the potential tying shot, but Gaithersburg’s Julio Tamakloe dove in, and with an outstretched arm, blocked the shot to seal the win for the Trojans.
“They just pushed the ball down, and it was kind of a miscommunication on the court. I had to just get over there as fast as I could. My hand got long enough and I blocked it. I didn’t want to go to overtime,” Tamakloe said of his game saving block.
Ituka and Hawkins were very impressive in the Trojans’ win, as they have been all season. Ituka (13 points) and Hawkins (11 points), were the only players in the game with double-digit points. Though they haven’t yet faced such a close finish against such a tough team until taking on the Rockets.
“You gotta experience it every once in a while. You gotta learn how to push through, and learn how to win the game, and how to finish. That’s what we did today,” Ituka said of the tense final minutes of the game.
Coming into the 2017-18 season, Gaithersburg wasn’t regarded as a contender in Montgomery County. However, their two freshmen, Ituka and Hawkins, have burst onto the scene, lifting Gaithersburg into the top tier of Montgomery County teams.
“They play with such passion, and they’re coachable, and they’re good teammates. I always say I would love to play with kids like that, and that’s why they are so fun to coach,” Gaithersburg head coach Jeff Holda said of his two freshman. “They have no fear whatsoever. Clearly Jao doesn’t, and now people are seeing Jordan Hawkins too…They are both incredible kids.”
After a disappointing 8-14 record in the 2016-17 season, Holda has revamped the Trojans, and pushed them back to the top of the County, and affirmed its place their with wins over B-CC, and now RM.
“I had good coaches that I worked with before me, I’ve been here 12 years, this is my third year as the head coach, and we try to build from within. We try to get kids from our own middle schools to come here, and it’s a struggle to keep kids here sometimes with the private schools always lurking, but we have good kids first that buy into our offseason programs, they love basketball and it’s great to coach them,” Holda said.
Building from within has led to the two star freshman in the starting lineup for the Trojans. Ituka and Hawkins were little known players to begin the year, but as they lead their team to the top of the County, the recognition has finally arrived. “We knew all along we were going to be very tough to beat, and if nobody else did we were fine with that,” Holda said.
With the win, Gaithersburg improves to 7-2, while Richard Montgomery drops to 4-4.