Two games in front of bleacher-pounding, ear-pulsing crowds in the Wise gym over the past seven days had reduced Pumas Coach Rob Garner’s voice to a scratchy whisper by the time he took the sideline for Thursday’s Maryland 4A South region semifinal against C.H. Flowers.
But a night after a terrifyingly tense win over Suitland, the gym at Wise was eerily quiet, as if the Pumas’ fans were still recovering from the perils of the previous night. In that atmosphere, Garner’s voice carried just fine to his players, but they needed no urging — the Pumas didn’t let up in a 67-52 win over the Jaguars.
“After [the one-point win against Suitland on Wednesday], that was a big eye-opener for us,” Wise guard Justice Sneed said. “We appreciated our time on the court a lot more today and wanted to take advantage of our time on the court today.”
Motivated by the chance to return to the 4A South region final — where Wise lost to eventual 4A state champion Eleanor Roosevelt last year — the Pumas built a double-digit lead after the first quarter with defense and transition baskets, which accounted for 12 of Wise’s 22 first-quarter points.
The Pumas’ reliably high-energy seniors led the charge. Sneed hit from deep while back-court mate Lavonte Sanders sliced his way to points inside and forward Micah Till altered Jaguars shots defensively while powering his way to 11 first-half points.
But Flowers (17-6), one of the few 4A South teams with enough size to harass the Pumas, climbed back into the game as high-flying big man Clint Robinson heated up and called defenders away from the Jaguars’ shooters. Midway through the third quarter, the Pumas’ lead fell to four. But Wise’s quick-shifting zone eventually took over, stifling Flowers and allowing the Pumas to push the game out of reach by the fourth quarter.
“We saw that they just wanted to run and do fast breaks,” Sneed said. “So we wanted to slow them down, stop them from driving — which they’re great at — and help on their big man Clint. We slowed them down to force them to run plays and shoot shots.”
While Robinson and fellow leaper Patrick Johnson held their own, the Pumas hustled their way to a few more loose balls and barrelled through Jaguars in the paint to a few more rebounds. By the end, the crowd had rallied, realizing that Wise was headed back to the game in which its season ended last year, this time to face DuVal on Saturday in Upper Marlboro.
“Our guys, they have a lot of chips on their shoulders. They’re very chippy,” Garner rasped with a laugh after the win. “. . . Every practice and game, they bring energy because they don’t quite feel as though what they’ve done so far is all that meaningful yet.”