It took less than a minute for North Point to deflate Magruder’s improbable postseason run in the first quarter of Thursday’s Maryland 4A state semifinal, which started with a simple layup by KanDeon Niravanh. After forcing a turnover on the next possession, Niravanh hit a floater in traffic — then, in an instant, snuck up and stole the inbounds pass and dished off an assist.
“That spurt amped me,” Niravanh said.
The game was never close after that three-possession swing, as the defending 4A champion Eagles used a vicious press to beat Magruder, 55-35, and return to the state title game in Towson.
Niravanh and Brianna Hodges each scored 12 points for North Point (24-2), which has won 13 straight and will head into Saturday’s final against Eleanor Roosevelt, which trounced Paint Branch 75-48, as one of the hottest teams in the state. The Eagles edged the Raiders in a riveting battle of unbeatens in last year’s 4A semifinals.
“We came out tonight very determined,” Niravanh said. “We’ve been here before four years straight, so we came out and were determined to get back to the finals.”
Magruder (18-7) entered Thursday’s contest having won more games this winter than in the three previous seasons combined. But it was missing its leading scorer and best all-around player in center Janel Brown, who broke her ankle in practice earlier this week.
North Point forced 26 turnovers, including 19 in the first half, and its offense fed off the chaos of the full-court press. It was an eerily similar strategy deployed in last year’s run to the state championship — except the Eagles didn’t expect the win to come so easy. Behind the speed and length of the lanky Niravanh and Hodges, the Eagles opened up a 24-8 lead in the first quarter, then held the Colonels without a field goal in the second quarter to push the halftime lead to 20.
“We play a small lineup. That’s not a secret. We’ll go four or five guards at a time. Tempo is the key,” North Point Coach Michael Serpone said. “I just don’t think they could handle our press. That was blatantly obvious.”
It was the second-lowest scoring output of the year for Magruder, which was one of Montgomery County’s most surprising stories this winter. The Colonels reached the state semifinals by winning six straight after a 27-point loss to Paint Branch in mid-February, and capped their winningest season since 1985. Magruder had won just three games in back-to-back seasons before winning 11 last season.
The team originally thought Brown had suffered a high ankle sprain Tuesday — and she initially was icing the ankle and working with a trainer to heal it before she found out it was fractured Thursday morning. The PA announcer at Towson introduced her during pregame warmups, and added that her injury was career-threatening. But Brown is planning on continuing her career after Thursday’s crushing loss, she said.
“I just had to walk out and have some heart in my team,” Brown said, “because I knew we made it here as a team.”