Basketball through the hoop

SILVER SPRING – Paint Branch High School’s girls basketball team prides itself on its aggressive defensive playing style. That tough, dominant defense led the Panthers to a 9-1 record, and on Jan. 17, that same defense led to a 45-39 victory over rival Montgomery Blair High School.

The Panthers didn’t waste any time displaying their dominance and generated three Blair turnovers in the first 40 seconds of the game. Those three turnovers turned into Paint Branch points each time, and suddenly the Blazers had entered a 7-0 hole before the game was even a minute old.

Blair Head Coach Amy Ferguson immediately called a timeout to assess the situation with her team, but that early Panthers lead would continue to haunt the Blazers for the rest of the evening.

Every time the Blair offense tried to get moving, the Panthers quickly put an end to any momentum. Paint Branch continued to generate turnovers and pull down defensive rebounds, while senior guard Patricia Anumgba stole several Blair passes and turned them into points for Paint Branch. Anumgba’s game-high 21 points came from the senior’s successful formula of taking the ball away and driving for layups.

“Being able to have her bring the ball down the court and control her team under pressure… I know that when she gets the ball, she will make the appropriate play,” said Paint Branch Head Coach Jocara Knight, who also referred to Anumgba’s presence on the team as “refreshing.”

Knight knew that for the Panthers to have a chance against the Blazers, they needed to shut down Blair’s most prolific shooters. The Blazers had won many of their games with a double-digit margin of victory due to players like forward Peyton Martin and guard Kate Hildebrandt.

“Our game plan was to come out and speed them up and see if they can shoot under pressure because they’re a very good shooting team,” said Knight. “I haven’t seen them be able to shoot under pressure and tired. Our plan was to push them and get them up and down the court uncomfortably, and see what we were going to do after that.”

Knight’s plan worked, and the Panthers held Martin to six points and Hildebrandt to 12 points. Hildebrandt’s pair of three-pointers came at convenient times for the Blazers and helped to cut into Paint Branch’s lead, but Blair was never able to pull away entirely.

Paint Branch led by nine points at halftime, but the tide turned in Blair’s favor in the third quarter, and it was time for the Blazers to showcase their defensive skills.

The Panthers managed just two buckets in the third quarter and had to use up most of the shot clock to find an open shot.

Meanwhile, the Blair offense kick-started with a 3-point basket from Hildebrandt and guard Emily Liu (11 points.)

“I was making the (3-pointers) in the warmups, so I knew that I had to make them here,” said Liu. “I’m proud that we didn’t give up because in the first 40 seconds, we were down by seven, and we fought back.”

Paint Branch entered the fourth quarter with just a five-point lead after Blair’s offensive emergence in the third quarter. However, Anumgba wouldn’t be denied. The University of Maryland – Baltimore County commit delivered at the free-throw line and even sunk a 3-point bucket to keep the Blazers at bay.

“We had to prepare for this game. There was a lot of prepping, more than usual. We knew that they were a good team, and we watched film on them,” said Anumgba. “We just knew they were going to come out and play us really hard, so we had to be physically and mentally ready for that. We are very aggressive, especially on defense. We tend to go for steals and on-the-ball pressure.”

That signature Paint Branch defensive pressure reared its head again in the final quarter to hold Blair to just six points as time ticked off the game clock.

Next up for the Panthers is a date against Damascus High School on Jan. 23. Blair will face off against Northwood High School on Jan. 24.

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