LARGO — Largo High School guard Christian Magruder was eager to get back on the court after missing three weeks from a finger injury, and it showed.
He recorded a team-high 20 points to go with four rebounds and two steals to lead his team to a 73-63 home win over Fairmont Heights in the opening round of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 1A state playoffs on March 1.
Not only was Magruder excited to return to action, but he awaited the moment to get revenge on the team who ended his 2018 season, 57-52, on Feb. 23, 2018, at Fairmont Heights’ home court.
“It felt great. First game in three weeks – had to show a lot of passion,” said the 6-foot-1 senior. “I wanted it bad. Last year they beat us, it hurt. I wanted it back this year.”
The Lions ran a fluid offense and forced numerous turnovers from defensive traps to create a sizable lead early on. Magruder got deflections, dived for loose balls and helped his fellow backcourt mates collapse and pressure Fairmont Heights’ ball handlers. As the Lions held the Hornets to nine points in the first quarter.
“We’re glad to have him back, and like I said, he’s key to what we do,” Largo Coach Rodney Ward said of Magruder’s value to the program.
“(He was) last year’s most valuable player on the team, and we’re just glad to have him.”
Ward, who is in his second year as head coach, highlighted how important of a game this was for his team, particularly his returning players.
“Coming into the playoffs, we know it’s one-and-done. They (Fairmont Heights) ended our playoffs last year at their place, so the kids – the juniors from last year – remember how the seniors felt, so they wanted to get a little retribution from last year. And it’s playoffs, it’s win or go home, so we really had a focus of wanting to come in making sure we could advance,” Ward said.
“We wanted to be aggressive with the ball handlers and make sure we got in the passing lanes; also, get a lot of deflections and turning those guys to the backcourt, just making them work for everything they had. And it led to a lot of turnovers, a lot of ball turnovers that we converted for buckets.”
Also for the Lions, Kevin Barbour and Davontae Clarke scored 16 points apiece while guard Ronald Easton dished out a game-high five assists.
Though Fairmont Heights picked up the intensity in the fourth to outscore Largo 27-16, the Lions used defensive aggression, ball control, making crucial free throws, rebounding and ball movement to prevent a late-game comeback by the Hornets.
Tywon Montgomery, one of Fairmont Heights’ leaders, didn’t go down without a fight. The 6-foot-4 senior guard led all scorers with 24 points, including a poster left-handed dunk in the first two minutes, to go along with seven boards and three assists.
“Great senior season,” Montgomery said, reflecting on his career with the Hornets. “I’m leaving with no regrets, so on to a different chapter. Time to move to the next one.”
Fairmont Heights hung with Largo in the second quarter but was outscored 18-9 in the third. The Hornets struggled to advance the ball past half court on several possessions to enter the fourth quarter with a 21-point deficit.
“It came down to live-ball turnovers, offensive rebounds on the inside, the inability to get stops at times – something that’s kind of plagued us all season,” Fairmont Heights Coach Chuck Henry said.
“If we had opportunities to set our defense a little bit better, I think we’re better off in that game…And then offensively, we couldn’t get a rhythm.”
As the Hornets’ season came to an end, Henry said he encouraged his guys to remain active in the offseason and improve their academic focus.
“Our grades have to improve. A lot of coaches don’t think that grades are congruent with skill sets in public school, and they absolutely are,” Henry said. So I think if we increase our aptitude in classes and we increase our attention to detail there, I think we’ll see much better basketball players on the floor.”
Derrick Key and Anthony Craven Jr. both tallied 14 points for the Hornets and combined for 11 rebounds.
The Lions improve to 10-13 with the win, while the Hornets’ season ends with a 7-16 record. Largo will take on Frederick Douglass on March 4 in the next round of the state playoffs.