McNamara head coach Marty Keithline knew a road trip against the No. 3 (Washington Post) Gonzaga Eagles would be difficult; so the team packed up and brought its fans and stingy zone defense on the road with them on Dec. 22. In front of a packed house at Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga High School, the No. 8 McNamara Mustangs played the role of unwelcomed guests and took down Gonzaga 64-58 in an animated top-10 duel. The Forestville, Md school jumped out to a 11-0 lead and never looked back. McNamara never trailed and never lost its composure, despite an off night from its leading scorer.

Senior guard Marcus Thornton scored a season-low seven points but his teammates were there to back him up. Seven McNamara players, including Thornton, scored seven or more points, which kept Gonzaga off balance and constantly scrambling to stop the Mustangs’ bevy of weapons. When senior guard Tyler Shipe (10 points) wasn’t scoring then it was senior guard Ibn Muhammad (10 points, seven assists) scoring and passing. When Muhammad wasn’t running the break and finding the open man then senior guard Callon Dailey (nine points) and sophomore guard Stephan Jiggest (nine points) were knocking in open shots and making clutch free throws. It all added up for a total team performance and McNamara’s toughest win of the season so far.

“It’s hard,” Muhammad said about beating Gonzaga on the road. “We haven’t done it in two years. It’s very hard. We knew we had to come out strong in order to beat them at home; we had to.”

Even after Gonzaga (6-2) tied the game at midway through the fourth quarter, McNamara (7-1) never flinched. “ just kept our composure kept playing the way we playing the whole game,” Muhammad added. “I have confident in my team and our defense. We’re real aggressive on defense.”

The Mustangs’ defense may have been the story of the game. A rotating zone defense frustrated Gonzaga early as McNamara ran off to an early lead. By the time the Eagles, and star point guard Nate Britt (16 points), figured out the aggressive zone scheme, McNamara just focused on rebounding and attacking loose balls.

“Tonight, the team that out-toughed won the game,” Gonzaga coach Steve Turner said. “They out-toughed us. They won every loose ball; they got every rebound when it mattered the most. It was the biggest difference in the game. There’s no excuse for us. You can call us young, you can call us inexperienced that’s not the case. Tonight, the team that went after it and wanted it more won the game.”

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO