“I feel awful for the kid,” Harwood said by phone Friday. “J.J. plays with so much heart. He’s our motor and makes us go, but not having J.J. in there will make us stronger in the long run.”
Running the offense for the fourth-ranked Colonels, Epps often plays at a pace few in the area can match, but with that frenetic style, he has struggled to stay healthy.
He missed two games with a wrist injury last winter and played through a sprained knee earlier this season, returning to action in a week when his doctor had originally expected him to miss almost a month. Epps, who is left-handed, has averaged 14.2 points per game for Magruder this season, which had a 31-game winning streak snapped by Springbrook.
Harwood said Epps has gotten better at picking his spots to attack the rim, developing a strong midrange pull-up jumper in an effort to stay on the floor.
“Most of the time he’s really good at that,” Harwood said, “but he’s such a competitive kid, he wants to take it all the way to the rack and challenge the big guys. Sometimes it works, but sometimes he’s going to take a hit and you never know what can happen.”
Magruder (6-1) took the court without Epps for the first time on Thursday, easily beating No. 16 Gwynn Park, 61-40, in the Roberts Oxygen Holiday Classic at Springbrook.
Senior guard Nick Griffin, a George Washington recruit, led the way with 20 points, while junior forward Danny Schaerr took advantage of his move into the starting lineup with a season-high 14 points and six rebounds.
Senior guard Matt Ricketts, who moved from shooting guard to point guard replacing Epps, dished out a season-high 11 assists. The Colonels play SMAC contender Thomas Stone on Friday night to close out the tournament.