ROCKVILLE — Bullis boys basketball responded to Damascus’ 15-0 with a 15-point spurt of its own to end the first half in its eventual 63-45 win on Monday night.
With the victory, No. 3 Bullis returns to Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School on Tuesday night to play No. 6 Poolesville in the Maryland Elite Summer League quarterfinals.
The game-changing run started after Bullis assistant coach Markus Townsend called a timeout with his team down 19-11 with 5:10 to go in the first half. In a span of about six minutes, Bullis’ seven-point advantage turned into an eight-point deficit.
Out of the break, Bullis guard Derrick Thomas II cut the lead to six with a pair of free throws. It turned out to be the first two of 20-straight points for the Bulldogs. Damascus never recovered.
“He was just telling us that we need to pick it up on defense,” said Thomas, who scored nine of his 13 points during the spurt. “Like everything starts with defense. Defense leads to offense.”
After scoring off the opening tip, Bullis put home 11 of the first 15 points before its extended scoring drought.
But that’s when Damascus started putting the ball in the hoop. By not getting stops, Bullis was forced to set up in the half court against Damascus’ zone defense. More often than not, possessions ended with long three-pointers or contested mid-range jumpers. For about six minutes, none of those possessions ended in points.
Townsend finally decided he’d seen enough after Damascus guard Mason Greene’s three-pointer from the top of the key made the score 26-19. Townsend had a simple message for his group.
“Just to kind of crank it up energy wise,” Townsend said. “We’re not the kind of team that can allow other teams to play harder than us.”
Bullis players started pressuring the ball more. After a basket, they’d sometimes pick up full court.
These changes forced Damascus into turnovers or low-percentage shots. Both resulted in Bullis getting out in transition, scoring before its opponent could set up the defense that hindered Townsend’s team earlier in the game.
This type of play carried on until halftime, and then it continued into the first few minutes out of the break. By the time Green converted from long range to break the scoreless streak, Damascus was staring at a nine-point deficit.
As the second half wore on, Bullis also began figuring out how to score against the zone. Instead of swinging the ball around the perimeter — hoping the defense would be slow rotating over to a three-point shooter — Townsend said Bullis’ guards began driving the ball before kicking the ball out to the open man.
Players also began looking for their frontcourt teammates to score inside. If the defense collapsed on them, they could look for one of their perimeter players to spot up.
Bullis did neither midway through the first half.
“We got a little complacent settling for those three pointers,” Townsend said
Thomas was one of three players to score in double figures for Bullis. Guard Phillip Smith and forward Raffy Baumgardner, who were named as the Players of the Game, each finished with 14 points.
With four minutes remaining and the game out of reach, Smith received the ball near half court with no one between him in the basket. He took a few dribbles, rose up and drew applause from his coach and teammates with a one-handed slam.
It was the exclamation point on a win that seemed in serious jeopardy earlier in the night.
“Pace is important for us, Townsend said. “When we play with pace, and we’re really running up and down the court, we’re tough to beat.”