The Paint Branch High School girls' basketball team spent much of Thursday's practice focused on post play and it paid off in Friday's 49-45 win over visiting Montgomery 4A East Division rival John F. Kennedy. The Panthers (14-2) clinched their second consecutive division title with Friday's second win over the Cavaliers this season.
“It was a really hard fight, we knew we had to put all the attitudes aside, all the drama, it was do or die, we wanted to have that second division banner in a row,” said sophomore center Sofilia Ngwafang, who scored a game-high 14 points. “This was important [heading toward playoffs] because we need to know we can play against these types of teams and pull out hard wins.”
With arguably the county's best guard contingent, which features senior Kiara Colston (16.6 points per game) and juniors Daisa Harris (17.8 ppg), who was honored at halftime for joining the 1,000-point club, and Tyra Sinclair (10.1 ppg), it was the Panthers' post presence that made the biggest difference Friday, Kennedy coach Kevin Thompson said.
In addition to her scoring numbers, Ngwafang, who transferred from James H. Blake this year, pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 sophomore's fast development under the tutelage of Panthers' coach Rochelle Coleman this season has added a new and important dynamic to Paint Branch's already high-scoring offense — Friday was just the fifth time in 16 games that Panthers have been held below the 60-point mark.
“I just told [Coleman] she's done a good job developing [Ngwafang], her touch off the rim, her confidence [in the paint], that's been the biggest development,” Thompson said. “I always prepare the girls for good guards, that wasn't the issue. The post presence adds another dimension [for Paint Branch].”
Behind scrappy defense, Kennedy was able to keep Paint Branch well below its 66.9 points-per-game average — timely 3-pointers from Colston and Sinclair helped Paint Branch maintain its lead every time Kennedy cut into its lead — but the Cavaliers struggled to make shots of their own. Colston scored all eight of her points in an important final 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Paint Branch edged Kennedy, 8-6, in a low-scoring first quarter dictated by strong defense and poor offensive execution. The Panthers pulled ahead 23-18 by halftime and led by 11 points after the third quarter.
Paint Branch led in both of its losses this season and once again Friday's game turned into a closer competition than it seemed it would be. Led by Daysha Adams (team-high 13 points), who nailed two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter alone, Kennedy cut Paint Branch's lead to four points in the final 30 seconds and two points with three seconds left in regulation.
“It was a great feeling [to close out the win], we worked together as a team, [Kennedy] put up a big fight,” Ngwafang said. “We have been working a lot on post moves. We had a statement to make.”
Paint Branch 49, John F. Kennedy 45
Kennedy 6 12 12 15 — 45
Paint Branch 8 15 18 8 — 49
Kennedy (11-2) — Daysha Adams 13, Makeda Wright 10, Kiara Arnold 9, Domoah Kutu-Akoi 4.
Paint Branch (14-2) — Sofilia Ngwafang 14, Daisa Harris 10, Tyra Sinclair 9, Kiara Colston 8, Autumn Ashe 5.