At one point in Thursday night’s 4A state semifinal, Wise’s 6-foot-6 forward Micah Till got his own rebound twice, had it poked away once, and still found a way to recover, muscle a pack of Springbrook defenders out of his way, and lay the ball in.
The Blue Devils had an answer for Till’s height the first time, even battled through his football-born strength the second. But the Pumas’ All-Met football player had too much strength and too much agility the third, a combination Springbrook found in all of Wise’s big men. Though the Blue Devils could sometimes answer Wise’s post players, they couldn’t do it enough, and the Pumas battled and bruised their way to a 57-44 win and a berth in Saturday’s Maryland 4A state championship game against Whitman.
The Vikings used their steady defense to get past Annapolis, 59-48, in Thursday’s earlier semifinal.
Springbrook Coach Tom Crowell singled out Till, Devin Moore, Trevor Brown and Jelan Sloan as challenging matchups. “They just roll them in” he said. “ We’re as big as they are height wise, but their girth was too much to overcome. They just take up so much space.”
Till finished with 18 points to lead all scorers, and Brown chipped in eight while looking as comfortable with the ball in his hands in the open court as he was with his back to the basket. Moore and Sloan had their hands on several rebounds, altering shots inside while threatening offensively.
When Blue Devils (24-3) collapsed on Till inside, he sent the ball out to Brown or fellow 6-6 forward Moore as often as he did to guards Justice Sneed and Lavonte Sanders. Wise didn’t hit a single three-pointer in the game, a rarity for the Pumas (25-2), but by no means a detriment Thursday. With Springbrook’s guards matching up well with the Pumas’ height in the backcourt, Wise found mid-range shots from Brown, Moore and Till just as effective.
“With Micah Till and Trevor, they can also dribble and step out and spread the defense,” Sanders said. “So we can attack, and we can send to them because they can shoot and they can finish.”
Springbrook finished the season as Montgomery County’s top defensive team, holding opponents to 46 points per game and frustrating foes with depth and length. But Wise matched the Blue Devils defensively, stifling Springbrook for nearly the entire first quarter, jumping out to a 12-0 lead before the Blue Devils finally scored with fewer than two minutes remaining in the period.
But Springbrook’s pressure slowed Wise, too, forcing the Pumas into a half-court game that made the in-and-out attack with their big men all the more crucial. With often deliberate offensive sets and constant full-court pressure, the Pumas beat one of the area’s best defensive teams at its own game.
“We wanted to come out with defensive full-court pressure, trying to make things uncomfortable for Springbrook, making other people besides the point guard handle the basketball,” Wise Coach Rob Garner said. “It goes to a testament to our team — we can play fast, we can play slow.”