In the latest stop on its improbable run through the Maryland 4A playoffs, the Whitman boys’ basketball team found itself in a familiar role Thursday night at Comcast Center.
The No. 18 Vikings didn’t have the same athleticism or explosiveness as Annapolis, their opponent in the Maryland 4A semifinals. And they didn’t have the star power to match Panthers senior guard Juan Brown, one of the area’s most dangerous scorers.
What Whitman did have was an unflappable patience on the floor, and a sophomore who calmly rose to the occasion. Kyle Depollar scored 20 points and knocked down all nine of his free throws as the Vikings kept rolling, defeating Annapolis, 59-48, to return to the state championship game for the first time since 2006.
Whitman (21-6) will face No. 3 Wise, which beat No. 15 Springbrook in Thursday’s late semifinal, 57-44, on Saturday in College Park.
The Vikings earned their return trip by overcoming a dreary first half in which they shot just 27 percent from the floor and Brown scored 12 of his team’s 22 points.
“I thought we did a pretty good job running our stuff and being patient,” Whitman Coach Chris Lun said. “Maybe the bigger court had something to do with it, the nerves and the jitters. But we took good care of the ball, I think we only had two turnovers in the first half.
“If we come out missing shots, that’s okay. As long as we’re preventing them from scoring, we’re not out of the game.”
The Vikings trailed by one point at halftime then took control after the break. Depollar completed a three-point play as the Vikings started making frequent trips to the free-throw line. They are not a notably strong free throw shooting group but knocked down 24 of 30 shots from the line Thursday.
“I started off the game real shaky. My three-point shot wasn’t falling real well, so Coach just told me to attack the rim and get to the line,” Depollar said. “I did that, and I got into the flow of things and things just fell from there.”
Depollar, Max Steinhorn and Riley Shaver got things going on the offensive end of the floor, but Whitman also tightened up its defense. The Vikings began to key on Brown, who finished with 26 points but also committed eight turnovers.
“We had faced some quick guards, but nobody that was as quick who handled the ball as well as him that shot as freely as him, and could hit,” Lun said. “I told the guys in the locker room, I said, ‘Guys, we just beat a very, very good point guard.’”
Annapolis Coach John Brady, whose 37th season at the school came to an end with the loss, said he wasn’t disappointed in his team’s shot selection or effort.
“Were we taking bad shots? No,” Brady said. “We just weren’t making shots.”
In the end, Annapolis (18-9) began running plays almost exclusively through Brown. Whitman was calm and steady defensively and at the free throw line the rest of the way.
“I think in the fourth quarter it looks like we may have worn them down a little bit,” Lun said. “I think they got a little bit tired there late, and that’s a credit to our guys. They just dug in on defense and did a good job pressuring the ball.”