Since Dec. 21, North Point forward Naim Muhammad, the team’s leading scorer, has had an ever-present voice in his ear reminding him of the seven points he had that night in a loss to Thomas Stone, a five-point defeat that snapped the Maryland 4A champion’s 30-game winning streak.
“Man, you didn’t play well,” North Point Coach Jimmy Ball would remind Muhammad. “We need you to play well this game.”
The game Ball had in mind was Friday’s rematch at undefeated and seventh-ranked Thomas Stone, a game that pitted Southern Maryland’s top two teams. And before a rowdy standing-room-only crowd at Waldorf, Muhammad showed his true form, scoring a game-high 20 points and pulling down 15 hard-fought rebounds to lead the No. 10 Eagles to a 74-57 win over the Cougars.
“It was poor preparation for myself,” Muhammad said of his previous performance. “I did a lot of cramping. But there are no excuses. That’s in the past. We’re happy to win today.”
Muhammad — a 6-foot-3 forward “on a good day,” he said — played far taller than his height on Friday against a strong Thomas Stone (19-1, 9-1) frontcourt. The lanky junior was active on defense, helping force turnovers, running the floor when needed and skying for rebounds. He was also deft on his feet, dancing around defenders for offensive rebounds and spinning put-backs.
“We‘re small so I gotta be the one to step up and get the boards,” said Muhammad, who estimated he played more like a 6-foot-8 player with his long arms and leaping ability. “So I just try and show up in big games.”
Thomas Stone’s cramped 700-person capacity gym was filled to the brim. Any extra standing space was taken by fans or cheerleaders. By 6 p.m., when the girls’ game started, the sold-out gym was already full.
“If we’re going to do anything in the playoffs, it’s going to come through our post,” Ball said.
Both teams played to a defensive halt in the first half, with North Point (18-2, 10-0) leading 26-19 behind its incredibly aggressive pressure. But in the third quarter, the Eagles pushed the tempo on offense and wore the Cougars down. By early in the fourth quarter, North Point had built a 24-point lead.
Senior forward Anthony Chisley led Thomas Stone with 17 points.
“We just wasn’t focused and we struggled to close out the game,” Muhammad said of the teams’ previous meeting. “Tonight we focused on closing it out and getting on them from the jump.”