As the other nine players charged back downcourt during the third quarter of Friday’s Maryland 4A West region final against Quince Orchard, Magruder’s J.J. Epps rolled back and forth on the floor, writhing in pain.
Favoring the same right hand that he broke earlier this season, Epps got up and slowly walked to the bench for ice, leaving Magruder fans to hold their breath for the next six minutes until the senior guard checked back in during the fourth quarter.
“I came down on [my hand] pretty hard,” Epps said. “It still hurt when I checked back in, but I wanted to go back and give it my best shot to show I was fine.”
By then, the Colonels had wrapped up a return trip to the state semifinals behind suffocating defense in a 47-30 victory at Blair. Senior swingman Nick Griffin scored a game-high 16 points for the defending state champs, who will face Baltimore Polytechnic, a 57-47 winner against Paint Branch, in Thursday’s semifinals at Comcast Center.
“We pride ourselves on being a good offensive team, but we got after it on defense tonight,” Magruder Coach Dan Harwood said. “I really thought our man-to-man defense was fantastic. We did a little more switching on defense because we wanted to make their guys work.”
The Colonels (23-2) wasted little time taking control of the contest. They jumped to a 12-1 lead in a first quarter that saw them limit Quince Orchard’s open looks. More than eight minutes passed before the Cougars notched their first field goal. By then, Magruder had established its offensive flow.
“The way we played on defense really opened up things on offense for us, and that’s what we want our main identity to be,” said Griffin, who scored 10 first-half points in front of his future college coach, George Washington’s Mike Lonergan. “My jumper wasn’t necessarily on tonight but I still was able to hit some shots that came from my teammates finding me.”
One of those teammates was Epps. The shifty 5-foot-6 guard found openings into the lane often, sparking a 9-3 second-quarter run that opened up a 17-point halftime lead.
From there, Justin Witmer got hot from the outside, tallying six of his 11 points in the third to counter any threat of a rally by Quince Orchard (18-7). After Epps went to the bench, Cougars leading scorer Charles Porter (11 points) shook off his early struggles to score eight straight points. But the brief spurt proved far from enough to overcome a deficit that reached as many as 21 points.