Howard Blue is happiest when playing basketball, perhaps because the Gonzaga senior knows what life is like without basketball.
Blue missed the second half of last season with a broken bone in his left foot, but has returned this season to lead a young Eagles team. Last night, the 6-foot-6 forward scored 25 points to lead visiting Gonzaga past Episcopal, 62-52, in a nonleague game in Alexandria.
"It seems like everything in general goes better when you're able to play basketball," said Blue, who also grabbed six rebounds and had three blocked shots.
Gonzaga (13-5) extended its winning streak to three, including victories over No. 19 Carroll and No. 20 O'Connell. Episcopal (1-3), a boarding school where students go home for the holiday break, was playing only its second game following an 18-day layoff.
"You saw the difference between the team that hasn't practiced as much or had as many games and the one that has," Episcopal Coach Tim Jaeger said. "It was a fairly close game down to the four-minute mark, and then they switched to a man defense and we didn't make the transition into our man offense."
Episcopal shot extremely well from outside--senior Will Stallworth and freshman Alton Fortner each made four three-pointers as the Maroon finished 10 of 17 from beyond the arc. With five minutes remaining, Episcopal was within 50-48. But Gonzaga's defense took over down the stretch.
"The biggest thing in that game was the difference in turnovers," said Gonzaga Coach Dick Myers, whose team had 13 turnovers to Episcopal's 22. "The rebounding was close, and they certainly shot well from outside. In many ways, things were going in their favor."
Blue also provided an edge in the game's final minutes, scoring seven of his team's final 12 points.
Blue, who is averaging a team-high 14 points and eight rebounds and has committed to play at Colgate next season, was a starter for Gonzaga last season until he injured his foot in early January. It was a freak accident; Blue stepped on the foot of a junior varsity player while walking up a flight of stairs before a game at Carroll High School.
The bone healed slowly, and Blue was on crutches for nearly 16 weeks. He missed the remainder of the season, which included three victories over DeMatha and a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. He said he didn't feel like his old self until November.
"It was hard watching the team win and not being able to be part of it," Blue said. "It was even harder to watch when we played bad, especially when I knew that maybe I could help."
CAPTION: Gonzaga's Howard Blue (5) maneuvers through a pack of Episcopal defenders to unfurl a hook shot over P.X. Head during a 25-point performance.