ROCKVILLE – When point guard Jada Thornton sidled up to the free-throw line in overtime on Jan. 28, the gym at Richard Montgomery High School was completely quiet. The previously raucous crowd was silent, watching intently as Thornton focused on the basket. There were just seconds left on the clock, and Gaithersburg High School was already in the lead; if Thornton made her free throws, Richard Montgomery’s chances to win the game would decrease significantly. The senior dribbled once, twice, and the sound of the ball echoed throughout the noiseless gym.
The ball’s ensuing slide through the net echoed too, but for different reasons. Thornton missed the second free throw, but it didn’t matter. The Trojans were just seconds away from a 57-52 victory, a win over a divisional foe and an answer to a loss against the Rockets only two weeks beforehand.
Both Thornton and Gaithersburg Head Coach Adrian McDaniel said after the game that Thornton’s performance against Richard Montgomery was the best she’d played all season. The senior almost single-handedly gave the Trojans their early lead against the Rockets in the first quarter.
“This was the best game I’ve had all season on offense and defense. We knew this was going to be a big game, so we knew we had to play hard,” said Thornton. “I just focused on defense as well, and then on offense, I was just making my shots.”
“She played an overall complete game, defense and rebounding,” said McDaniel. “I told her she’s a leader, and she needs to step up. I was proud of her.”
Part of McDaniel’s game plan included having Thornton guard prolific Richard Montgomery senior Anujin Dashdorj. Gaithersburg was all too familiar with Dashdorj’s shooting abilities, especially from behind the 3-point line. The last time the two teams met, Dashdorj dropped 19 points on the Trojans. This time, the senior registered a team-high 23 points and six 3-pointers before fouling out in overtime. Meanwhile, Thornton led all scorers with 30 points.
At first, McDaniel’s strategy of stymieing Dashdorj worked according to plan. The senior was uncharacteristically silent in the first half and managed just one 3-point bucket and a pair of free throws.
As a result, Gaithersburg had built a comfortable 13-point lead by halftime. For Thornton, though, that lead was part of the problem.
“We lost a big lead, and then we went down. I knew we needed to settle down and play defense as we did in the first half,” Thornton said. “I think we got ahead of ourselves because we thought the game was won, so we let up. Then we had to press the gas again.”
The Rockets offense, though, had kicked into a second gear. Dashdorj and sophomore guard Gloria Moudou worked in tandem to pull Richard Montgomery out of its double-digit deficit. Dashdorj hit Moudou with a no-look pass for two points before tying the game at the free-throw line. Thornton’s ensuing layup gave Gaithersburg the lead again before Dashdorj’s timely buzzer-beating 3-pointer put the Rockets back in front.
The score seesawed until the end of regulation when a free throw by Gaithersburg guard Makayla Robinson sent the game to overtime.
Dashdorj received her fourth foul almost immediately into the three-minute overtime period. The senior then fouled out after grabbing Thornton to stop the clock with less than 20 seconds left to play.
“It hurts trying to help the team, but when you don’t realize how many fouls you have, you make a dumb decision,” said Dashdorj. “I didn’t know (I had four fouls), but at the same time, I had to do what I had to do.”
“I was surprised when she fouled out too,” said Thornton. “That wasn’t our intention, but it helped us in the end.”