GAITHERSBURG — The Gaithersburg Trojans basketball team has had a superb season, despite a heartbreaking loss to Northwest a few days before their home match against the Wootton Patriots on Jan. 18. The Trojans bounced back with a dominating victory by the score of 67-53.
The real star of the game was sophomore Jao Ituka, who finished the night with an impressive 31 points. He also went 10-for-10 at the free throw line.
“We had to bounce back from the Northwest loss,” Ituka said. “We had to make sure we came out here and got the W, and I just played the right way to help my team win.”
Ituka’s run began very early on as he contributed to the Trojans’ 12-5 lead with seven of those points midway through the first quarter. He went on to finish the quarter with 12 points, as his team led 18-9 at that point.
“Every time I see a lane, I take it,” said Ituka. “I’m pretty explosive off the dribble. I don’t think anyone can stop me one-on-one, so when I’m heading off to the basket, I’m pretty much going to score 50-percent of the time.”
However, the Patriots kept it competitive. Once down 18-7, they cut the deficit to 20-17 at one point in the second quarter. Alas, Gaithersburg continued to steal the ball, score in transition and rush to the basket.
Ituka added six second-quarter points to finish the half with 18. Besides Ituka, another contributing piece for the Trojans was fellow sophomore Jordan Hawkins, who registered 12 points in the first half.
Gaithersburg continued to cruise through the third quarter, as Ituka put up nine points, which included three made free throws, to extend his point total to 27.
The fourth quarter is when the Patriots started another comeback attempt. Nevertheless, Gaithersburg still hung on for the victory.
“We had a really good first half where we were efficient with the ball,” said Trojans head coach Jeff Holda. “We defensively played our best half of the year.”
Ituka added four more points in the fourth quarter, while Hawkins registered eight points in the quarter to finish the night with 20 points.
Holda was impressed with Ituka not only for his best free throw-shooting game in his two years at Gaithersburg, but also his superb defensive job of guarding Patriots senior Kevin Ayissi-Etoh.
“Jao usually has to guard a bigger guy, because we’re such a small team,” Holda said. “Tonight, having to guard an elite player like that, I was really impressed with how he shadowed him, got through screens, and kept Kevin from getting to the rim.”
Despite being on the losing end, senior Garrett Koch was Wootton’s leading scorer, with 21 points, while Ayissi-Etoh finished with 17, the second-most points for the visitors.
“We got close to getting ourselves a real chance,” said Patriots head coach Erick Graves. “We cut it back, it would have been interesting. But I love this group. They fight hard.”
With the win, Gaithersburg improves to 10-2 while Wootton falls to 6-7.