ROCKVILLE — A second-half comeback attempt Tuesday night by the Wootton Patriots varsity boys basketball team rattled some nerves as the Springbrook Blue Devils saw the Patriots eat into their hard-earned lead, but Springbrook held on, walking away with an 81-73 victory.
“I thought we played well,” said Springbrook head coach Darnell Meyers. “I just thought we have to protect that ball a little better in our offense, but overall I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Springbrook and Wootton entered the game going in two opposite directions, Springbrook having won two in a row while Wootton had lost two in a row. But Wootton's boys continued the pattern they've developed by keeping the came close and never giving up, even against Montgomery County's top teams.
Springbrook started the game by building a 7-2 lead. Wootton responded with nine points from forward Julian Levin, helping the Patriots to take a 13-12 lead later in the first quarter. However, even though Springbrook point guard and Quinnipiac commit Matthew Balanc had to clean up six of his teammates' missed shots for six second-chance points, Springbrook held a 17-16 lead heading into the second quarter.
The two teams stayed close for most the second quarter, but in the final three minutes of the first half, the Blue Devils finally got the run they had been trying to make. Two straight steals by Springbrook players sparked a 15-4 run to close the half, after which they led 42-31.
Despite the momentum Springbrook had given itself going into the locker room, it was Wootton which had the fast start in the second half. Quickly, Wootton closed the gap to as close as two points. Wootton hit four three-pointers in the third quarter and had six more points from Levin, but more cleanup work by Balanc late in the quarter gave the Blue Devils a little more breathing room, and as the fourth quarter began, they led 60-56.
Springbrook kept trying to pull away in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots just would not go away. It seemed that for every big basket Springbrook scored, Wootton answered. Sam Rafidi hit a clutch three-pointer for the Blue Devils to put them up by six, and Balanc drained a three-pointer on the next possession to increase the cushion to nine points with just under three minutes left.
However, Wootton still wouldn’t go away, responding with a 6-0 run, and after Garrett Koch drained a three-pointer, it was suddenly anyone's game with three points separating the two teams. But on Wootton's next possession a game-tying three-point attempt by the Patriots went in and out of the basket, and Wootton was forced to foul with 34 seconds to play.
Because Springbrook was excellent from the line over the course of the entire game, it turned out that free throws shooting would give the Blue Devils the final push they needed. Wootton hit 11 out of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter, and 24 out of 30 for the game. Springbrook closed out the final seconds, and escaped with a 81-73 win.
Springbrook’s stars showed up when they were needed, late in the game. Balanc, who finished the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds, scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half. Balanc was excellent on the offensive glass, and despite a poor shooting day, was able to take advantage of second-chance opportunities in the paint.
“I had to get points off of what I could get because they weren’t really giving me a lot,” Balanc said. “On this team, I have to rebound a lot, plus my shots weren’t really falling, so that’s the only way I could really score.”
Cam Rucker hit big free throws in the final minutes of the game and led the Blue Devils with 20 total points.
However, it wasn’t just the big names for the Blue Devils that played a role. Meyers emphasized the significance of not just his two stars, but the supporting cast as well. Delaino Jessup had an excellent game with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Sam Rafidi had eight, Timirtrius Whitney-Hawkins and Anthony Deruisseau each had seven.
Levin paced the Patriots inside, and stellar three-point shooting around him allowed his team never to go away. Levin led Wootton with 18 points, five rebounds, and two steals. Ryan Warsaw made four three-pointers and finished the game with 16 points, 10 of which came in the second half. True Johnson, who leads the Patriots in points per game, scored 13 with four rebounds, but fouled in the game’s final minutes. While Springbrook was able to limit Johnson, Wootton players Levin and Warshaw stepped up. Even so, turnovers and missed shots in the game's last minute ultimately doomed Wootton.
Springbrook improved to 11-2 with the win, and Wootton fell to 5-6.
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