A Kennedy guard slashed into the lane early in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Montgomery 4A East matchup against Sherwood only to be met by a wall of black jerseys. With his dribble wasted, the helpless Cavalier forced a pass that flew into the back court for a turnover. As a referee walked to retrieve the ball, Sherwood Coach Dondrell Whitmore stomped his feet and pumped his fists with delight.

Whitmore prefers to play an uptempo style based around strong man-to-man defense, but on Friday, Sherwood used zone schemes to frustrate Kennedy on the way to a 52-41 win in Glenmont. During one stretch in the second half, the Warriors held the Cavaliers without a field goal for almost nine minutes.

“We love when [Whitmore]’s happy,” said senior Brandon Loiacono, who score a game-high 14 points. “When he gets mad, it’s not a pretty sight. Him being that happy really makes us feel good as a team.”

Coming off a trip to the Maryland 4A state tournament, Sherwood (3-3, 1-0 Montgomery 4A East) had lost three straight games in similar fashion. The Warriors had struggled with early turnovers and spent the rest of the night playing from behind. Loiacono said the team learned some hard lessons in humility through its struggles during the season’s opening weeks.

Whitmore’s fix was to slow the game down on both ends, which meant employing a zone defense for all but one possession. Neither team ever found much of a rhythm on the offensive end, but Sherwood pulled away during Kennedy’s long scoring drought.

After senior Marcus Murray (13 points) hit a three-pointer with 5 minutes 27 seconds left in the third quarter, Kennedy (5-2, 0-1) didn’t convert another field goal until midway through the fourth quarter with Sherwood going on a 9-1 run in that span to take a 39-28 lead.

“Everybody tries to play a zone” against us, Kennedy Coach Diallo Nelson said. “We just didn’t shoot the ball well. The guys were timid. We weren’t attacking.”

Whitmore hopes the gritty effort can be a turning point for a group that has struggled to mesh in the early going. Sherwood lost its top two scorers off last year’s 19-win team, including Scott Bolen (21 points per game), but added several talented transfers to the mix.

“With the new guys and then the old guys, I had to figure out a way to mix them up to where they could feel comfortable with each other,” Whitmore said. “We tried something new tonight, and it worked.”