Boys Basketball: Magruder Tops Poly in State Semifinal

by Eric Meany

Seniors Justin Witmer (left) and J.J. Epps will finish their high school careers playing for a second consecutive state championship Saturday.

Seniors Matt Ricketts (left) and J.J. Epps will finish their high school careers playing for a second consecutive state championship.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The defending state champion Magruder High School boys basketball team got 17 points and 10 rebounds from senior forward Justin Witmer and used stifling defensive pressure to defeat Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, 62-50, in the semifinal round of the Class 4A MPSSAA tournament at the Comcast Center on Thursday.

Senior forward Darrion Stokes-Graham hit a jumper just over a minute into the first quarter to give the Engineers (20-7) an early 2-0 advantage, but consecutive 3-pointers by Nick Griffin gave the Colonels (24-2) a lead they would not relinquish.

Aggressive defense by Magruder and poor execution by Poly combined to hold the Engineers to just 26.7 percent shooting from the floor. Poly’s 20 offensive rebounds helped them attempt 22 more shots than the Colonels for the game, but Magruder still managed to connect on five more shots than the Engineers.

“It is going to be tough to win any basketball game where that’s the case,” Poly coach Sam Brand said of the shooting disparity. “I thought that was the toughest stat of the game to get over. And also that we had one team assist, I mean those two – that’s a losing formula right there.”

Magruder coach Dan Harwood said keeping Poly’s high-scoring duo of Stokes-Graham and point guard John Crosby under control was the focus of the Colonels’ defense.

“Those two guys are great players, and we tried to do the best we could to make life difficult for them,” Harwood said. “I thought we played pretty good defense for the whole game. I thought we challenged almost every shot. I thought our defense — our man-to-man defense has been pretty good all year, but tonight it was just fantastic.”

The Colonels took a 15-9 lead after one quarter and led by as many as 12 during the second quarter before going to halftime up 30-19. The Engineers opened the third quarter with a 10-4 run to cut the deficit to five points, then traded baskets with Magruder the rest of the quarter to trail 39-34 entering the fourth.

“We knew that they were going to go on their run,” Colonels point guard J.J. Epps said. “But once we got them stopped then we were going to get our run, too.”

Epps began Magruder’s fourth-quarter run by sinking a pull-up jump shot off the glass seven seconds into the quarter, and Brian Coleman followed with a fast-break layup 20 seconds later to push the Colonels’ lead to nine. Stokes-Graham hit a 3-pointer with 5:20 remaining to bring Poly within six, but Magruder outscored the Engineers 16-4 over the next four minutes to put the game away.

Stokes-Graham grabbed 10 rebounds to go with his game-high 19 points in the final game of his high school career. Griffin and Epps each finished with 14 points for the Colonels.

Next up for Magruder is a rematch on Saturday with Eleanor Roosevelt, the team they defeated in last year’s state final. The Raiders topped North Point, 61-58, on Thursday.

“We’re going to be the underdogs, which will be nice for a change,” said Harwood. “I think Roosevelt’s got a great team, and they’re obviously hungry from a tough loss to us last year. We’re going to have to play our ‘A’ game to beat them.”

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