So close, but yet so far: a few more points, and the Paint Branch Panthers would have gone into the history books after their 84-21 win against the Springbrook Blue Devils on Friday night.
The Panthers are no strangers to lopsided matchups. With the exception of their season-opening victory against the Walter Johnson Wildcats, they have won every game since by at least 40 points, and three of those games with a 60-plus margin.
Save for a loss in the Title IX tournament against the St. John’s College High School Lady Cadets, the Panthers are undefeated in Montgomery County; conversely, the Blue Devils are still searching for their first win of the season.
“Regardless of who the opponent is, we can’t put our head down; we can’t get discouraged, because this is what’s going to happen in life,” said Blue Devils Head Coach Joia Daniels.
It was a demoralizing showing for the Blue Devils, but one that was visible from the minute the first quarter ended 26-7. The Panthers constantly ran at 100 percent, leaving no point guard undefended, no rebound wasted, and no ball uncontested to pressure the Blue Devils into sloppy turnovers.
“At certain points, we’re playing against ourselves,” said Panthers Head Coach Ravilia McMiller. “We have to do things to get better, we have to still dive to the floor, we have to still go after loose balls, because when we get into intense games, those plays matter.”
The closest the Blue Devils got to the lead was when sophomore Blue Devils guard Aryss Lindsey shot and tied the game at two points after two free throws by senior Panthers point guard Katerra Myers. The Panthers then went on a 14-point streak to put a healthy amount of space between the two teams.
Myers was the highest-scoring player with 27 points, followed by junior Panthers shooting guard Patricia Anumgba with 25. Both players were vital for the Panthers’ offense, and their aggression in the paint as well as on defense further nullified the repressed Blue Devils.
The second quarter was more of the same: 26 points for the Panthers and eight for the Blue Devils, with little in the way of improvement for the latter team. Missed passes became painful turnovers for the Blue Devils, and, while they closed their defensive gaps slightly, perimeter shooting was unavoidable and commonplace.
Senior guard Astou Seck made a single bucket for the Blue Devils’ only two points of a third quarter that saw the Panthers throw down 23 points. With victory practically assured for the Panthers, they sought to challenge themselves with their own goals.
“We know we’re going to win, so we got to set higher goals for ourselves. If that means be intense the whole game and not slack off, then that’s what we should do,” Myers said confidently.
With nothing to lose except the game, the Blue Devils brought out an aggressive style of play for the final quarter, which was a complete about-face from their earlier performance. They held the Panthers to a game-low eight points and ruined their chance to get to 100 points.
The defensive style was too little too late for the Blue Devils, but it showcased the potential of the beleaguered team. They’ll continue searching for their first win when they face the Northwood Gladiators next, while the Panthers face the Blair Blazers on Monday.