After a first half on Friday against Richard Montgomery in which several of his drives to the hoop turned into open jumpers for his teammates, Paint Branch senior Tristan Toliver asked Coach Walter Hardy if he knew the school record for assists in a game.
Hardy told the 5-foot-11 guard not to worry about the mark in a contest his team already had well in hand, but the moment in a 75-60 victory provided the veteran coach with a pleasant reminder of his squad’s priorities.
The experienced Panthers, newly ranked at No. 18, have thrived on offensive balance and unselfish play in the early going. In four wins, six players have averaged at least eight points per game, and the team has combined for nearly 20 assists per game.
“I like passing the ball — We all do,” said Toliver, who had six points and eight assists in the win over the Rockets. “We like to share. We don’t feel any pressure to score because with the offense we like to run, the points just come.”
Paint Branch (4-0) has the pieces in place for a special season with 10 seniors and six of its top seven scorers returning from a squad that fell in the Maryland 4A North semifinals in March.
Toliver, Jordan Radway, Justin Hackley and Tre Galloway are all seniors and capable scorers with starting experience. Galloway, a 6-foot swingman, has been the team’s best facilitator with 25 assists so far.
Still, it’s been hard to pin down a top scorer. Senior center John Onukaogu, while slightly undersized at 6-foot-3, has come on strong this season, averaging 8.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. Against Richard Montgomery, junior Reuban Edwards, Hardy’s third reserve off the bench, led the team in scoring with 13 points.
“It’s nice that the other team can’t just focus on one guy when you have a lot of different guys that can score,” said Hardy, who is in his 15th season at the Burtonsville school.
Toliver said the team tries to make four or five passes on every offensive trip, giving the offense a chance to create an easy basket.
At times, the players’ willingness to pass has even hindered the offense. Hardy recalled one play in which a Panther drove into the lane and then fired a pass off the back of a teammate who had turned to box out, expecting a shot.
“We just look for good shots,” Toliver said. “There’s no need to put up bad shots when we know that if we run through the offense we can find a better one.”