At this point in the season, with each win drawing Magruder one step closer to a second straight Maryland 4A state title, the Colonels have been warned not to get caught looking ahead.
To help avoid this pitfall in Thursday’s state semifinal against Baltimore Polytechnic, Magruder senior Matt Ricketts shifted his focus elsewhere in checking top Engineers guard John Crosby.
“I watched his stomach so I would know which way he was going to go,” Ricketts said. “I just wanted to stay in front of him, give him space so he couldn’t get by me but also stay aggressive.”
Led by Ricketts’s effort within their disciplined man-to-man defense, the Colonels pulled away for a 62-50 win at the Comcast Center. Ninth-ranked Magruder (24-2) held the Engineers to 26.7 percent shooting from the field, including a 2-for-16 showing from behind the three-point arc.
“Our defense has really carried us all year. . . these guys trust each other on defense,” Magruder Coach Dan Harwood said after reaching his seventh final in 13 years. “Ricketts typifies our team with his unselfish effort on offense, but his defense tonight was the key to the game.”
Magruder’s united front surfaced on offense in the first quarter. Sound ball movement and constant motion opened up Nick Griffin for two early three-pointers and a 15-9 lead. The Colonels stretched their advantage to 11 points behind strong play from Justin Witmer (17 points, 10 rebounds) and J.J. Epps (14 points).
Meantime, Ricketts swarmed Crosby on defense, holding the Engineers’ top scorer to just 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting.
The Engineers (20-7) responded after halftime with a 10-4 run to cut the deficit to five points. Then with 2 minutes 9 seconds left in the third, Griffin picked up his fourth foul, landing him on the bench at a time when the Colonels were struggling to find offense.
“I told J.J. to show me something and make plays for the team,” said Griffin, who finished with 14 points.
Epps answered the call with two consecutive buckets but it was Witmer who made perhaps the most memorable play midway through the fourth quarter. After shaking off a defender on the perimeter, the senior forward took two hard dribbles before throwing down a one-handed jam that put Magruder up 45-36.
From there, the Colonels used proficient foul shooting to stay ahead, knocking down their final 10 free throws to close the game on a 14-5 run.