Gwynn Park junior Justin Faison walked onto his home court Tuesday night for pregame warm-ups, heard the roar of an overflow crowd that had filled the bleachers midway through the preceding junior varsity game and realized his decision to return to public school had been a good one.
“It was a special moment,” he said. “When I saw the crowd was packed, and everybody came just to see our team play, I feel like we arrived.”
Faison and company spent the next two hours proving they belong in the conversation among the Washington area’s top boys’ basketball teams this season. In a battle of unbeaten Prince George’s County rivals, No. 9 Gwynn Park answered every challenge and pulled out a 72-65 win over No. 6 Douglass in Brandywine.
But it was the way in which the Yellow Jackets accomplished the feat, keeping their poise after a late Douglass rally, that could carry meaning well beyond Tuesday.
Faison, who transferred to Gwynn Park this fall after playing for McNamara’s JV team last year, finished with a game-high 22 points, and 11 of them came in the fourth quarter. The point guard knifed into the lane at will during the final five minutes of action, and went 10 of 11 from the free throw line for the contest.
Forward Isaiah Miles added 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, controlling the paint and slamming home a couple thunderous jams while Douglass struggled to penetrate Gwynn Park’s 2-3 zone defense.
A three-point play by Faison sparked a 9-2 run that allowed Gwynn Park (11-0, 4-0 Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A) to eventually open a 64-55 lead with less than three minutes to go in regulation.
Coach Michael Glick “said that you can thrive in these moments, so I took that to heart, and I feel like I could finish at the rim whenever I wanted to,” Faison said.
But Douglass (8-1, 4-1) didn’t wilt, and the Eagles mounted a frantic charge behind junior Donald Carey. He promptly scored five of his 15 points in a five-second span to bring the Eagles back within striking distance. When junior Savion Ward hit a three-pointer from the wing with 1 minute 20 seconds left, they had suddenly trimmed the deficit to two.
Gwynn Park never lost its cool, though, as three different players, including Faison, combined to score seven of the final nine points to ice the game.
“It seems like a different kid steps up every game,” Glick said.
Afterward, all the talk was about how these two neighboring schools might not meet again until the Maryland 2A South region final. They only face one another once this regular season because of the addition of several vocational schools to Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A league play this winter.
The stakes were evident from the opening tip, as Douglass senior Cameron Hayes scored for 10 of his 21 points in the first quarter. But the Yellow Jackets were undeterred, despite losing to the Eagles three times last year. They went on an 11-0 surge when Faison hit consecutive three-pointers to give them the lead for good.
This, after all, was a moment he had been waiting for.