Three weeks ago, Theodore Roosevelt sophomore guard Rontrez Purcell was asked to take over the point guard duties for the defending D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association champions when the usual starting point guard was ruled academically ineligible.
It took Purcell a few games to get used to the new role and little by little he started to feel stronger in it. In a DCIAA semifinal against No. 16 Spingarn on Thursday at Coolidge, Purcell showed he has adapted well. He scored 22 points — all in the second half — to lead the Rough Riders to a 85-76 win over the Green Wave.
“The learning process, it’s been hard,” Purcell said. “But I like taking my time. My coach had faith in me and I had faith in myself. This team had faith in me.”
On Thursday, with the halftime score tied at 38, the 6-foot-1 Purcell turned aggressive in the third quarter. He scored 15 points in the frame, including a trio of three-pointers. Purcell also proved to be a tough defender and deft passer, too.
“It took him a while to jell” in the new role, Theodore Roosevelt Coach Rob Nickens said. “But tonight was his breakout game. I’m just so ecstatic and proud of him.”
Trailing by nine points to start the fourth quarter, Spingarn mounted a comeback behind senior guard Rockell Lee-Vaughn, who scored a game-high 37 points. The Green Wave trimmed the deficit down to 77-72 with 2 minutes 38 seconds left. But Purcell and the Rough Riders proved to be too much.
In the earlier semifinal, Coolidge junior DeShaun Morman, who spent last season at Meadowbrook, a public school in Richmond, had 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Colts (28-6) into the final.
“At my old school, we never made it to a championship,” Morman said. “I’m happy to be here and proud to support my team.”
The Tigers (22-9) were led by senior guard Dimitri Gaither (18 points).
Behind a tough defensive effort and the strength of its guards, Wilson topped Theodore Roosevelt, 41-25, in Thursday’s first semifinal. The Tigers (20-9) will face No. 6 H.D Woodson, the six-time defending champion, in the final Saturday at 4 p.m. at Coolidge.
Wilson led, 5-3, at the end of a sluggish first quarter, but the Tigers began to pull away behind defensive skills of guard Bria Hawkins-Barnes (10 points).
The senior made consecutive steals — finishing with a fastbreak layup on one and drawing a foul on the second — to pull the Tigers ahead 13-7 in the second quarter.
The pressure helped, said Hawkins-Barnes, who had four steals. “Their guards weren’t as skilled as our guards so it’s easy to pressure them.”
Theodore Roosevelt (12-7), led by senior forward La’Shaughn Jones (10 points), made a late second-half run. But the Tigers controlled the tempo of the game. Wilson senior forward Johnelle Green also added 10 points.
“It feels great,” Hawkins-Barnes said. “And I love my team. I’m glad they’re the one we get to make it with. We worked hard for it and we made it.”
H.D. Woodson (24-5) also overcame a slow first quarter before pulling away to top Coolidge, 68-35, in its semifinal.
Junior guard Georgianna Gilbeaux led the Colts (10-11) with 13 points.