Junior Takayla Ellis earned her place in the Gwynn Park girls’ basketball team’s starting lineup through her work in summer league, showing Coach Michael Strother that she could handle more than the reserve role she had filled late last winter after transferring midseason from Riverdale Baptist. But the 5-foot-6 guard began Tuesday’s game at Friendly on the bench next to her coach as punishment for an incident at a recent practice.
After sitting through a forgettable first quarter, Ellis provided the spark her team needed, scoring 13 of her 17 points in the third quarter as Gwynn Park pulled away for a 59-43 victory in Fort Washington. The Yellow Jackets head into the second half of the Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A schedule alone atop the league standings.
“I was anxious,” Ellis said. “I knew I had to bring the intensity coming off the bench because there was no intensity” in the first quarter.
Fresh off a 35-point win over rival Largo on Friday, Gwynn Park (10-2, 9-0 PG 3A/2A/1A) did not adjust well to Ellis’s absence. The Yellow Jackets struggled to crack Friendly’s zone defense in the opening quarter and failed to capitalize on their few open looks, missing 11 of their first 12 shots from the field.
Once Ellis entered the game, Gwynn Park slowly found the form that delivered the league title last season, goading the taller Patriots (8-4, 7-2) into playing at a frenetic pace. Senior Genesis Lucas gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead at 21-19 with two layups in the final 20 seconds of the first half, and the visitors kept the momentum going after halftime.
“Basically, our second team came in and picked up the defense and we kept going from there,” said Lucas, who posted a game-high 20 points to move within six of 1,000 for her career. “We fed off their energy.”
Ellis did most of her offensive damage in the third quarter when Gwynn Park outscored Friendly, 22-7, to put the game out of reach. She showed ease slashing to the basket in the half-court set and also finished a pair of layups in transition off passes from Lucas during the run.
Neither Ellis nor Strother would specifically address the incident that kept her out of the starting lineup, but Ellis said she needed to be “more disciplined” and her coach added he was satisfied that the team could move on.
Ellis “doesn't hold anything on her shoulders,” Strother said. “She showed she’s a kid of character. She bounced back today and stepped in and gave us some really good baskets.”
Senior Chayla Lewis was the lone Friendly player to crack double figures with 10 points and seven rebounds as the Patriots fizzled down the stretch.