Blazers finally find team cohesion in their last home game of the regular season
NELSON H. KOBREN GYMNASIUM, Feb. 19 -
Thursday night's game was a moment of redemption after a long and dissatisfying season for Blair's varsity boys' basketball team (7-14). Coming off of the momentum of their close overtime win over Walter Johnson on Tuesday, the Blazers rallied to defeat the visiting Gaithersburg Trojans (10-11) in a powerful 48-37 performance on their senior night. The two victories make up Blair's first string of consecutive wins since beginning the season 3-0.
Each senior played a role, as every one scored at least one point over the course of the night. In the spirit of senior night, head coach Mark DeStefano started the five seniors who have been part of Blair basketball since their freshman year: guard Eddie Kolleh, guard Wayne Henderson, forward Josh Gordon, forward Neil Corran and center Leon Sampson.
These starters, especially, were proud of their strong outing. "It feels really good to win," Sampson said. "Tonight we all really clicked and it shows."
DeStefano was satisfied with the victory, believing that Blair's effort in this game was what he had been pushing for all season. "We try to learn something every game, and sometimes it takes more than one example for them to learn," he said. "In tonight's game, we really put ourselves in a position to win."
The starters took no time to show that they were ready to play. Blair was on the board first after Henderson nailed an elegant shot early in the first quarter. The Blazers were able to recover quickly onto defense throughout the quarter and were able to prevent multiple shots from the Trojans, ending the quarter in their favor, 11-10.
Senior co-captains McClain, Henderson and Sampson dominated the scoring with 12, 10 and 13 points each respectively. Henderson proved to be a vital asset to the team, using his speed to lead the Blazers back down the court after grabbing rebounds. Sampson took advantage of his height and dunked in the second quarter, prompting an eruption of cheers from the fans.
Despite Blair's heightened level of play, Gaithersburg put forth a great effort to stay in the game. "Gaithersburg played a great offense," DeStefano said. By the end of the first half, the score was tied at 21-21.
DeStefano saw the even score as an opportunity for Blair pick up more momentum for a win. "We had to look at it like it was zero to zero," he said. "We were playing at home and it was senior night so we had to score."
The Blazers responded, stepping up their defense and converting on multiple rebound opportunities. Blair's offense was able to penetrate the Trojan's defense often, as was highlighted when, in the middle of the quarter, junior Cooper Niemand got the ball and deftly dodged multiple Trojan defenders while bringing the ball up the court. Once within the three-point line, Niemand quickly passed the ball to Henderson who laid it up for two points. Blair also limited Gaithersburg to just five points, helping the Blazers hold a narrow 30-26 lead into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter was an exhibition of skills for Blair's seniors as the home team ran away with the game. Early on, McClain scored back-to-back lay ups for Blair, helping to widen the score. Late in the quarter, Sampson dunked again after a quick breakaway. "It came from a great execution play drawn up by coach," Sampson said. Blair lighted up the scoreboard with 18 points for a final 48-37 score.
DeStefano was content with the win and was proud of his seniors. "I'm happy with this game and I'm very proud of our seniors," he said. "I give this class credit because they've adapted and worked hard over the years."
Looking towards playoffs, DeStefano is confident, but cautious. "We've got to continue to improve," he said. "We'll have to see [because] playoffs are a weird animal."
Blair's final regular season game is at Wheaton on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. Playoffs TBA.
Editor's note: Mark DeStefano is an adviser for Silver Chips Online
Jenna Bushnell. Jenna Bushnell likes sunshine and funfetti cupcakes. In her free time she enjoys excavating ancient Mayan temples, choreographing classic Broadway revivals, and smiling at strangers. For the right price, she will recite all of the words to "Rock Yo Hips" by Crime Mob. More »