There were no defenders in his sightline or hands in the way when J.J. Epps prepared for the biggest shots of his career.
The junior point guard is accustomed to slicing between defenders a foot or more taller, so he said he felt no pressure as he went to shoot free throws with third-ranked Magruder trailing by one point in the final minute of the Maryland 4A championship game.
Epps made both free throws with 43 seconds left, then sealed the victory by making two more with 4.6 seconds left and added a steal on 12th-ranked Eleanor Roosevelt’s final chance, leading the Colonels to a 39-36 victory before 11,265 at Comcast Center on Saturday night.
“Just got to hit them if we want to win,” Epps said.
Two nights after scoring six of his 16 points in overtime to lead the Colonels to their state semifinal victory, Epps finished with 13 points as the Colonels won their second state title.
“When you’re 5 [feet] 4 and challenging a 6-9 guy, shooting free throws is not a big deal,” said Magruder Coach Dan Harwood, whose team’s previous championship victory also was against Eleanor Roosevelt, 70-58, in 2001. “That’s one guy on our team nothing is going to bother him. He is fearless.”
“I knew we had the talent,” Harwood said. “But we also had intangibles of great chemistry.”
Junior forward Malachi Alexander led the Roosevelt with 11 points and 12 rebounds. The Raiders (22-5) had won 15 of their previous 16 games.
“They played their hearts out,” Roosevelt Coach Brendan O’Connell said. “We executed what we wanted to do, but we just came up a little short. I’ll take that effort all the time.”
After Magruder took a 35-28 lead midway through the final quarter, Roosevelt scored the next eight points.
Magruder proceeded to run more than one minute of offense before Epps drove and was fouled with 43 seconds left, setting the stage for Epps’s heroics.
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