UPPER MARLBORO – All night long on Jan. 17, Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School boys basketball used a full-court press on Northwestern High School. By the fourth quarter, that pressure wore down the Wildcats and made a game-changing difference for the Pumas. Trailing 63-61, the gradual effect of the press led to a 12-0 Puma run that turned a close game into a decisive 82-67 Wise victory.
“We’ve been working really really hard on our press. We wanted to demonstrate that tonight,” Wise Head Coach Lou Wilson said. “We did press from the start of the game tonight. I really think the press wore them down. They had some unforced turnovers they usually do not have.”
Before that run, no team had led by double digits. Northwestern led by nine points twice in the third quarter but ran out of gas down the stretch.
“I thought we did well for three and a half quarters,” Northwestern Head Coach Terrance Burke said. “The problem is we’re not that deep, and it showed down the stretch.”
The Wildcats (8-5) usually use an eight-man rotation, though that lack of depth caused trouble in the second half as multiple players got into foul trouble. After leading scorer Jeremiah Woodland fouled out with 4:02 remaining, Northwestern’s offense struggled. Senior point guard Artrelle Steele made some questionable decisions, and the Pumas capitalized.
Following a basket by Woodland to put Wise (9-4) back in front 63-61, the Wildcats didn’t score for another two minutes. Guard Trey Thomas hit two free throws to tie the game on the next possession, then senior guard Kejuan Frager scored to give the Pumas a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Steele sandwiched two missed free throws in between three turnovers on four possessions, and Wise capitalized with a bucket after each mistake.
“I feel like we wanted it more than they did,” Frager said. “We hustled, got loose balls, a lot of rebounds, we did more than what the other team had to do.”
Before the fourth quarter, it looked like the Wildcats would pull out an impressive victory. Heading into tonight’s contest, Northwestern had won seven of its last eight games since getting back Steele and junior forward Josiah Taylor from injury. Though Wise looked like the more athletic and more talented squad, the Wildcats were more cohesive for much of the game.
Led by steady play from Taylor, Woodland, senior Marquise Delahaye and sophomore Jesse Warwick, the Wildcats executed their game. Taylor and Delahaye continuously penetrated and attacked inside, while Warwick provided some timely 3-pointers. That paid off in the third quarter, as three straight 3-pointers gave Northwestern a 43-34 lead.
But just as it looked like the Wildcats could run away with the game, Thomas woke up. The Archbishop Carroll transfer had nine points in the first half, though he could have had more if not for some missed layups in the 3-point shots.
He became a different player in the second half, looking to attack and create chances for himself instead of settling. After a jumper from Woodland put Northwestern up 45-36, Thomas scored 11 of Wise’s next 13 points to cut the Wildcat lead to 52-49 heading into the final frame.
“I just had to get comfortable, get out of my head and find my shot, continue to trust in my teammates,” Thomas said. “Once I did that it all worked out for me.”
Thomas finished with a game-high 30 points after having just five at halftime, and his play seemed to spark his teammates. Frager was a pest in the fourth quarter, helping force multiple turnovers and chipping in 20 points himself. In the final minutes, football star Jalil Farooq made his presence known on the hardwood, getting a steal and score and two-second chance layups.
“We very gritty, very gutsy tonight,” Wilson said. “Very scrappy on the defensive end.”
Wise’s athleticism and depth eventually made the difference, and Burke knows he still has to have some bench players step up to complement a robust Northwestern starting five.
“We talked about that in the locker room that we have to be ready to play,” Burke said of his bench. “When you call your number, you have to come in, whether it’s a minute or five minutes. You have to be solid.”