When the Howard girls’ basketball team practices each week, Coach Scott Robinson will occasionally call for a situational drill. Sometimes, he tells his players they are down two points with 10 seconds to go. Other times, the starters need a last-second three-pointer against the reserves.
In all of those different drills, Robinson said one thing is constant: junior guard Jayda Gilmore wants the ball.
Gilmore routinely rises to the occasion in practice, and she followed suit Tuesday night, this time in one of the most important games of the season in Howard County. Gilmore scored all 12 of her points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lions past Centennial in Ellicott City, 43-32.
With the win, Howard (17-2, 14-2) avenged a Jan. 17 loss to Centennial and took a big step toward securing the regular-season county crown. Gilmore’s fourth-quarter outburst was the main reason why.
“I was just thinking we were back in the position that were in at Centennial the first time,” she said. “And I know how bad it felt to lose, so I didn’t want that to happen. I did whatever I could to help out the team.”
Gilmore scored seven consecutive points midway through the frame, then hit a smooth turnaround jumper near the baseline with the shot clock winding down to give Howard a 38-30 lead in the final two minutes. Her performance was nothing new for Robinson, who felt like he was watching one of those situational drills in action.
“Jayda has a lot of confidence in herself. And she loves the pressure,” Robinson said. “Jayda time and time again will hit the clutch shot, even though that’s practice. The bigger the spotlight, she thrives on that.”
Both teams got off to a sloppy start, combining for 11 turnovers, eight missed free throws and only 15 points in the first quarter. Howard center Sydney Biniak (five points) sat out the entire second quarter because of foul trouble, and the Eagles seized a 21-17 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Howard brought a heightened defensive intensity to the court and took care of the ball. The Lions held the Eagles, who averaged 61 points per game before Tuesday night, to 11 second-half points. Sara Downing led Centennial (14-5, 13-3) with 11.
“At the beginning of the game, we came out kind of dry. We weren’t playing with a ton of heart,” said Howard guard Anne Kinsey, who finished with six points and nine rebounds. “I think in the second half, we came out with intensity. We knew we needed to win this game.”
After winning 12 in a row to start the season, the Lions dropped back-to-back games against Centennial and River Hill last month. Now they have quietly won five in a row, with a regular-season county championship in their sight.
“We just have to stay focused and keep this winner mentality,” Gilmore said, “keep forcing it to happen.”