Boys’ basketball: Churchill gaining confidence, ready to make a run

The Churchill boys’ basketball team probably envisioned a slightly different start to the season than the one that materialized. Early close losses and a few unexpected blowouts set the Bulldogs back in the Montgomery County 4A South race, and injuries to key players slowed efforts to recover into rhythm.

But after starting 2-6, then stabilizing, only to lose three straight in late January, Churchill (7-11, 4-3 in Montgomery 4A South) finally looks ready to start the run it anticipated lasting all season. Two wins over division leaders Blair and Whitman last week surprised many, but could be a sign of things to come for the healthy and increasingly confident Bulldogs.

“We thought we were going to come out strong, but we just hit a wall,” junior captain Bobby Arthur-Williams said. “A lot of it was health, honestly, but we were just underachieving. Now we’re picking it up.”

Arthur-Williams, who averages just fewer than 12 points per game, missed those three late January losses, while leading scorer Jesse Locke (15.7 points per game) missed six games in the Bulldogs’ early skid. Churchill (7-11, 4-3 in Montgomery 4A South) relies heavily on its three leading scorers — Arthur-Williams, Locke, and senior captain Allen Njumbe (14.9 points per game) — so the absence of any one of them deals a major blow.

But with that trio healthy last week, Churchill avenged an early-season loss to Whitman with a four-point win, then shocked the county by blowing out Blair by 20 points. Blair’s only in-county loss coming into that game had been to perennial power No. 18 Springbrook.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

“We played them the first time [in a 70-54 loss], and we were with them to the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Arthur-Williams said. “We figured, we can beat these guys. We came out with firepower, and since we’ve seen that anyone can beat anyone in Montgomery County, we just thought, ‘Why can’t we?’”

Three-point firepower is a particularly important aspect of the Bulldogs’ game. According to all reported statistics this season, Churchill makes the 15th-most threes per game of any team in the D.C. area (6.3). Only Magruder (6.4) averages more among Montgomery County teams.

Locke’s absence early on was particularly crippling to that part of the Bulldogs’ game; the junior averages three made three-pointers per game, eighth in the D.C. area and tops in Montgomery County by a wide margin.

Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.

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