Thursday seemed like a good opportunity to get the defending state champion Col. Zadok Magruder High School basketball team when it was down.
The out-of-county matchup against Gwynn Park at the Springbrook High School Holiday Tournament was the Colonels' first since losing in overtime to the Blue Devils and first without arguably Montgomery County's best point guard, JJ Epps.
Gwynn Park coach Michael Glick said the Yellow Jackets planned to pressure Magruder with its leading defensive player, Epps on the sidelines, his right arm casted and in a sling — Epps broke his hand in the Springbrook loss and will likely be out until Feb. 1, Magruder coach Dan Harwood said.
Instead Magruder did all the pressuring in a 61-40 victory.
When the Colonels (6-1) need a bail out, Harwood said, Epps is the guy to make that happen. He gets into the lane and creates a play for himself almost every time. But Magruder is an excellent passing team and its ability to move the ball around the court became even more important Thursday.
Matt Ricketts took over as floor general and led the team well, Harwood said.
“No one plays with as much heart as he does, he is the leader of our team,” Harwood said. “Matt Ricketts, I would have to say, is probably the second best point guard in the county. He is usually off the ball [for us] but he is comfortable on the ball and he played well for us.”
Magruder typically implements a man-to-man defensive scheme, propelled by quick-footed and scrappy Epps. Thursday it was the Colonel's match-up zone that made Gwynn Park the Colonels' second-lowest scoring opponent — only Northwood scored less (34 points).
“We didn't really plan on playing it that much [Thursday] but it was working so well so we stuck with it in the second half,” Harwood said.
Magruder virtually eliminated Yellow Jackets leading scorer Jalen Harris (19.1 points per game) from Thursday's contest, which was Gwynn Park's (4-3) worst offensive outing.
Ackhel Bazil's game-high 21 points were well above his 9.1 points-per-game average but it wasn't enough.
“Magruder did an excellent job moving the ball and hitting open shots and we just really struggled to score against their zone. That was the biggest difference, we could not score against their zone,” Glick said.
It took about eight minutes — Magruder scored just 10 points in the first quarter — for the Colonels to adjust to their new dynamic. But after a 10-4 first quarter, they took control on both sides of the ball.
Nick Griffin, Magruder's all-time leading scorer, netted five 3-point shots to pace the Colonels with 20 points.
Usual sixth-man Danny Schaerr (14) also came up with some big baskets for Magruder.
The Colonels doubled their scoring in the second quarter to take a 30-16, halftime lead. They never led by less than 14 points the remainder of the evening.
“We tried to pressure [Magruder] with JJ out...Magruder is a hard team to play from behind,” Glick said.
Magruder 61, Gwynn Park 40
Gwynn Park (4-3) 4 12 8 16 — 40
Magruder (6-1) 10 20 16 15 — 61
Gwynn Park — Ackhel Bazil 21; Evan Joiner 8; Jalen Harris 6; Aaron Parker 3; Cedric Hines 2.
Magruder — Nick Griffin 20; Danny Schaerr 14; Justin Witmer 13; Brian Coleman 5; Josiah Jones 5; Tyril Jackson 2; Matt Ricketts 2.