Magruder Wins 4A Championship Behind Epps’ Clutch Free Throws

by Eric Meany

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Two nights after propelling his team to an overtime victory in the semifinals, junior J.J. Epps hit four free throws in the last minute of play to give the Magruder High School boys basketball team a 39-36 win over Eleanor Roosevelt in the MPSSAA Class 4A championship Saturday at the Comcast Center.

The Roosevelt Raiders (22-5) led Epps’ Colonels (26-1) by one point with 43.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Epps stepped to the line to shoot two free throws. Despite the significance of the situation, Epps said he didn’t let it affect his approach.

“No pressure,” the soft-spoken Epps said with a smile after the game. “I mean, it’s just a free throw. You just go up there and shoot it.”

The 5-foot-4 point guard converted both free throws to put Magruder ahead, then hit two more with 4.6 seconds remaining after being shaken up on a hard foul to push the lead to three. Roosevelt’s Malachi Alexander couldn’t control the ball after the ensuing floor-length inbounds pass, giving Dan Harwood his second state championship in 22 years as head coach of the Colonels.

Harwood spoke glowingly of Epps’ performance in the title game, especially considering  that the guard was still feeling the effects of a pulled groin muscle.

“This is the toughest kid in America, J.J. Epps, he is just unbelievable,” Harwood said. “When you’re five-four and you’re challenging a six-nine guy, shooting foul shots is not a really big deal. I’m glad I have him for another year, because he’s going to make a great college point guard.”

A low-scoring first quarter set the tone for a matchup in which neither team every really found an offensive rhythm. The Raiders didn’t sink their first field goal until more than six minutes into the game, and Garland Owen’s tip-in at the buzzer gave Magruder a 9-8 lead going into the second quarter.

The second quarter was only slightly more productive offensively. Luke Ruland scored a jumpshot with 15 seconds left in the period giving the Colonels a 22-20 halftime lead.

Magruder held a seven-point lead with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, but a basket by Alexander followed by Akil Charles’ nifty left-handed flip off the glass narrowed the gap to 29-26 entering the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for only 13 points in the third period.

Magruder was accustomed to holding opposing teams to low scoring totals, but their previous low offensive output this season was 53 points against Blake on Feb. 10.

“That’s the best defense we’ve seen all year,” Harwood said of the Raiders effort. “They did an unbelievable job.”

In the fourth quarter, the Colonels built their lead to seven points with four minutes remaining, but Roosevelt went on an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to take the lead and set up Epps’ last-minute heroics.

“I’m not really devastated right now, because they played their hearts out,” Raiders coach Brendan O’Connell said. “I thought we executed what we wanted to do, we just came up a little short tonight.”

Other Scores:

Patterson 86, Thomas Stone 75: Junior guard and Seton Hall recruit Aquille “Crimestopper” Carr had 28 points and eight assists a day after the birth of his daughter as the Clippers (21-7) overcame a 15-point third-quarter deficit to win the Class 3A championship game over the Cougars (25-2).

Patterson held the early advantage, building an 11-point lead with less than two minutes left in the first quarter. But Thomas Stone dominated the second quarter, outscoring the Clippers 29-12 on their way to taking a nine-point halftime lead.

The Cougars went cold from the field in the second half, making just 12 of their 33 shots after converting at a 51.7 percent rate in the first half. Thomas Stone was plagued by turnovers throughout the game, committing 24 that Patterson turned into 34 points.

Senior forward Emeka Mbakwe led the Cougars with 18 points, shooting 7-9 from the field and 4-5 from the free throw line.

The win capped a big week for Carr, who became a father early Friday morning after scoring a game-high 24 points in Patterson’s semifinal win over Tuscarora on Thursday night. The Baltimore Sun reported that Carr’s girlfriend, Treshonda, gave birth to Averi Carr at 6:35 a.m. Friday.

After the Clippers’ win on Saturday, Carr took to Twitter to dedicate the victory to his daughter.

“Averi Carr your dad is a champion,” he Tweeted. “Love you girl you came in the world a champion.”

Lake Clifton 70, Largo 64: The Lakers (24-3) took a 19-point lead midway through the third quarter and held off a late run by the Lions (22-5) to win the Class 2A championship.

Lake Clifton’s defense set the tone early in the game, as they held Largo to 6-for-24 shooting from the field in the first half.

“We just came out aggressive on defense,” Lakers coach Herman Harried said. “We just knew they were good, and what we did, we tried not to allow them to do the things they wanted to do and get where they wanted to get.”

Senior Aaron Parks led the Lakers with 22 points and 14 rebounds, playing all 32 minutes. Guard James Boone added 12 points and six assists for Lake Clifton.

Guard Derrick Colter led all scorers with 23 points for the Lions.

Dunbar 60, New Town 36: The Dunbar Poets (24-3) never trailed the Titans (20-7), building a 29-point fourth-quarter lead on their way to winning the Class 1A title for the third consecutive year and giving the team its 14th state championship.

Senior guard Evan Singletary led Dunbar with 19 points, with senior forward Gavin Pettiford adding 10 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Danny Shand had 13 points for New Town.

Dunbar’s 14 championships tie it with Allegany for most in Maryland high school basketball history.

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