During the six weeks J.J. Epps spent watching the Magruder basketball team from the bench with his broken right hand in a cast, he took solace knowing he’d be back on the court in his senior season when the Colonels needed him most. The 5-foot-6 guard missed eight games and needed a few more to shake the rust from his high-energy game, but on Tuesday night, Epps showed he’s regained his familiar form at just the right time.
Epps set the tone on his senior night, scoring 19 of his 22 points in the first half as the 12th-ranked Colonels blew past No. 13 Paint Branch, 73-56, in a Montgomery nonleague contest in Derwood.
The frenetic playmaker was at his best during a 21-2 run to close the first half that all but ended the Panthers’ hopes of extending their seven-game winning streak.
“My job is to facilitate, you know, get all my players involved and be the floor general,” said Epps, who also missed school on Monday with the flu. “That’s what I do, but when it’s time to score and we need a bucket, I just try to go to work.”
In a highly anticipated matchup of senior-laden Montgomery County division champions, Paint Branch (17-3) came out hot, hitting six of its first seven shots. The Panthers held a three-point lead on the defending Maryland 4A champs after one quarter, but that advantage quickly became a distant memory with Epps leading the charge.
Early in the second quarter, Epps pounded his chest after making a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 22. On the next trip, the guard found senior Brian Coleman with a beautiful jump pass in transition for an easy bucket, and Magruder (18-2) led the rest of the way. In the decisive burst, Epps registered six points and five of his 10 assists.
Epps finished 8 of 10 from the field, showcasing a strong midrange game with an array of foul line jumpers and a few even deeper. He only attempted two shots in the second half with his team well in control.
“He’s getting his shot back,” Magruder Coach Dan Harwood said. “That jump shot is pretty special. That was his biggest weapon last year. . . . He’s playing like the J.J. we know and have come to love.”
Epps had plenty of help from the other seven seniors playing their final regular season home contest. Coleman, a 6-foot-4 forward, set a career high with 22 points, converting five of his nine field goals off assists from Epps. George Washington-bound guard Nick Griffin connected on four of his 10 three-point attempts to finish with 12 points. In all, the senior class combined for 67 points in the convincing victory.
“The main thing to do was to go out there and send a message, put a little fear into the other team’s heart,” Epps said. “It doesn’t matter if they have the same record as us. We can go out and play with anybody.”
Sophomore Donovan Walker led Paint Branch with a career-high 12 points.