For Whitman, success this season has come from knowing its shortcomings relative to Montgomery County competition.
“We’re definitely not as athletic as some of the teams we play,” Coach Chris Lun said after his team’s 37-31 win over Kennedy on Friday night in the first round of the 4A West region playoffs.
But that admission forced adjustments all season, the main one a willingness to pass and pass (and pass) through minute-long possessions, to wait for the right shot to open up, to watch time click by if it doesn’t.
After a 16-point loss to the Vikings a week ago, Kennedy adjusted, throwing a zone at Whitman’s pass-heavy offense in the hopes of preventing passes from wearing down individuals. So Whitman (17-6) adjusted too, and shot over the zone. At one point in the third quarter, the Vikings had fired 20 three-pointers of 26 total shots.
“We’re usually pretty even between threes and twos,” said senior Ben Castagnetti, who outscored Kennedy (13-10) by himself in the third and finished with a game-high 18 points. “We were getting open threes, so we decided to take them.”
When the threes stopped falling, the Vikings waited for two-pointers. That patience may have bored the crowd in the Whitman bleachers, but it kept the ball out of Kennedy’s hands, forcing the Cavaliers to take advantage of every possession. But that proved difficult against Whitman’s other 2013-13 staple: help-oriented defense.
“Our gap defense allows us to hold more athletic teams down,” said sophomore Kyle Depollar, the Vikings’ leading scorer in the regular season, who added six points Friday. “It stops them from finishing and takes time off the clock.”
By game’s end, the Vikings’ slow-’em-down strategy had worked to perfection. The clock ran quickly, whistles blew sparingly, and the Cavaliers didn’t have many possessions with which to work. Though Kennedy hung within two possessions in the final minutes, quick scores proved hard to come by all evening, and the Cavaliers’ comeback stalled as time ran down.
“If we work hard on defense, we’re going to hold teams scoreless,” Castagnetti said. “No, we’re not the most athletic, but we get the job done because we buy in on the defensive end.”
Suitland had come close to knocking off perennial power Eleanor Roosevelt twice during the regular season. Twice, the Rams had come within three points of beating the defending 4A champions.
When it counted most, Suitland (13-9) pulled it off, erasing two three-point losses with one three-point win, 68-65, over the Raiders in Greenbelt in the first round of the 4A South region playoffs.
“They have a program that’s used to winning, so we knew we’d have to win the game,” Suitland Coach George McClure said. “They weren’t going to give it to us.”
Roosevelt (16-7) looked ready to take the win early, heating up after a back-and-forth first quarter to open up an eight-point lead at halftime. With the Rams’ leading scorer, Gerard Grey (17.5 points per game), in foul trouble early in the second half, Suitland’s Mikeil Watkins stepped up. The junior knocked down crucial threes to go with a big second half from Donnell Graham to keep the Rams close. Then Grey reentered and hit six fourth-quarter baskets — “every one of them huge,” McClure said — to propel the Rams past the Raiders.
“It was just a team effort,” McClure said. Roosevelt’s “Andre Fox is a heck of a scorer. We wanted to wear him down, and he had 27, but I think we wore him down just enough. We knew we weren’t going to stop him, so we wanted to do just enough to make a difference.”
Suitland will face Wise in the 4A South quarterfinal Monday.