Throughout his eighth season, Eleanor Roosevelt boys’ basketball Coach Brendan O’Connell has said the pieces just seemed to fit for a senior-laden group with plenty of experience on the state’s largest stage.
Eleanor Roosevelt returned to the state tournament at Comcast Center for the fourth straight year, and on Saturday night, O’Connell’s squad closed a special season in style, celebrating the Maryland 4A crown that has always been just out of reach with a 61-56 victory over No. 9 Magruder.
A year after coming up short in the state final against the Colonels, the Raiders returned the favor, using an advantage inside to win their second state title in school history. Senior Tiwian Kendley finished with 19 points and seven rebounds and senior Malachi Alexander added seven points and 16 boards as the Raiders became the first Prince George’s County team to claim a state crown since Largo won 3A in 2008.
“Now I’m smiling,” said Alexander, a three-year starter. “This is the happiest day of my life so far. It means everything.”
Eleanor Roosevelt (27-1) wasted little time attacking the Colonels in a game it never trailed. The 6-foot-7 Alexander and bulky forward Jesse Ason controlled the paint with Kendley, an athletic 6-5 swingman, adding to Magruder’s woes.
The Raiders used second-chance points to grab an early advantage and finished with 20 offensive boards. That toughness around the hoop showed up in the free throw margin, too. The Prince George’s County champions finished 16 of 28 from the line.
Meantime, the Colonels (24-3) focused their offense outside the arc, attempting 37 three-pointers. They didn’t earn a single free throw.
“We had to block out to win the game, and it just wasn’t going our way,” said Magruder senior forward Justin Witmer, who had 11 points. “They got a lot more offensive rebounds than they should have.”
Eleanor Roosevelt took command with a run of 12 straight points early in the third quarter to take a 43-30 lead. Kendley provided the highlight of the burst when he broke ahead of the defense for a vicious one-handed dunk. After Brian Coleman’s putback pulled Magruder within a point, the team went more than five minutes without scoring.
Magruder stayed in it by making 12 of those 37 three-point attempts, but the Raiders managed a swift answer to each challenge. When the Colonels pulled within 51-48 on a three-pointer by J.J. Epps with 3 minutes 23 seconds remaining, Alexander found forward Lerenzo Foote inside for an easy layup.
That turned out to be Eleanor Roosevelt’s final field goal, but the Raiders went 8 of 12 from the free throw line from there, bouncing together at midcourt in celebration after the final buzzer.
“I was just ready to play,” said Kendley, who wore the net the team cut down afterward around his neck during the postgame press conference. “I just didn’t want to lose. . . . I was looking at the time even when there was 50-some seconds left, and I knew I wasn’t finished yet.”