Theodore Roosevelt refused to alter its identity, no matter how tempting it became Thursday night at Verizon Center. If there was one thing Rough Riders point guard Johnnie Shuler promised himself before his final high school game, it was that he wouldn’t be lulled to sleep by Maret’s methodical style, which seemed to be the antithesis of the “run and have fun” mantra that Shuler coined earlier this season.
But Shuler wanted to transcend that philosophy and do something he had never done, so he hit rarified air on the stage of the District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship game against the Frogs. After starting a fast break, he glided down the middle of the court until he reached the paint. The 5-foot-11 point guard then stunned the entire crowd by violently dunking over a Frogs player.
Shuler has dunked so rarely in his high school career that he was stunned himself.
“That’s my first dunk in a real game,” said Shuler, who glared at the crowd intensely after throwing it down. “I was shocked.”
Everything was back to normal on the next possession. Shuler pulled up and knocked down a three-pointer — part of 11-point, five-assist night as Theodore Roosevelt beat Maret, 57-53, to take home its first DCSAA title.
The win capped a remarkable late-season run by Roosevelt (25-6), which won 10 straight games and the DCIAA title over the past month with Shuler as the centerpiece. The Rough Riders averaged 83.5 points per game over the last eight games entering Thursday, and the speed and freelancing style of their point guard inspired the team to play a fast-break-or-nothing-style.
Maret (22-8), which blew out Roosevelt in mid-December, looked as if it was going to quell that approach early Thursday. Even after Shuler electrified the crowd with his dunk, the Frogs used a 10-2 run early in the second quarter to pull within 24-23 at halftime, and gifted forward Jalen Barnes scored eight of his 17 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter to pull his team within 35-32.
But with the score low and the game manageable for Maret, Roosevelt’s impulse to play up-tempo even in half-court sets took over late in the quarter. Shuler found senior sharpshooter Troy Stancil for two open three-pointers, and Stancil added two more before the game was over. His fourth of the game was the dagger that all but put the game out of reach.
“We just tried to be us, every single night,” Shuler said. “Troy Stancil played big tonight. Real, real big tonight.”
Stancil finished with 15 points and was named the game’s most valuable player, and he said Thursday represented the Rough Riders’ rise from adversity experienced a year ago. After starting last season with 21 straight wins, they crumbled down the stretch, losing to Coolidge in the DCIAA title game and then in the DCSAA playoffs. The Rough Riders beat a diverse slate of opponents to close this season, including DCIAA rivals Coolidge and H.D. Woodson twice apiece and WCAC power St. John’s. On Thursday, MAC champion Maret simply couldn’t find an answer for Shuler, Faulkner and Jibreel Faulkner, who had seven points and patrolled the paint with four blocks.
“We kept playing the way we’re going to play, and they [ended up] going faster than they wanted to go, which is our advantage. Then we had to run and gun,” Stancil said. “Everything just fell into place from there.”