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There's no doubting Thomas as TJ stuns Paint Branch

March 03, 2001

There's no doubting Thomas as TJ stuns Paint Branch



By DAN SPEARS

dans@herald-mail.com

FREDERICK, Md. - If there was any team to break the poker face of Thomas Johnson point guard Jermaine Thomas, surely it would be Paint Branch.

The top seed in Class 3A West, the Panthers were the defending state champion, had won 32 straight games, had all-everything forward Jamaal Wise, had the speed and height to give Thomas and the Patriots fits.

And with 7 minutes and 17 seconds to go in the game, Thomas threw his arms into the air and finally did crack - into a broad smile.

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Thomas' 3-pointer gave TJ a 19-point lead, and the Patriots survived one late Paint Branch rally for a 92-79 victory and a trip to Cole Field House for the state semifinals next week.

"After that, I just knew we had it," said Thomas, who finished with a career-high 40 points, including a 19-for-23 night at the line. "I was in it, the bench was in it, the crowd was in it. It was all going our way."

Thomas' 3 was part of a 16-0 run that wrapped around the third-quarter break and a 26-6 run overall for the Patriots (19-5, No. 4 Herald-Mail poll).

The surprise wasn't the run, it was that the heart of the run was backup forward Donnie Wilhelm, who was forced into the game after center Rashad Wells picked up his fourth foul with the Patriots leading, 46-43.

"Coach (Tom Dickman) had me put up the nets today during gym class today, and I told him, 'Coach, why am I doing this? We're just going to cut them down later,'" Wilhelm said. "Coach just told me that we'll see."

Wilhelm finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and a fitting block of Paint Branch's final desperation 3.

"Matt has played well for the last three weeks," Dickman said. "Now he knows what he's able to do and things we need him to do. ... We were in trouble, and we go out and increase the lead with him."

The lead capped at 72-49 on two Thomas free throws and Wells' return for Wilhelm with 5:52 to go. Paint Branch put together its best effort in the next three minutes, getting to 77-65 on two free throws by Wise, who finished with 34 points, with 3:07 to go.

Then Thomas took over again. TJ ran a stall with its bevy of ballhandlers that always looked to Thomas in the desperate situations. He responded by going 7-for-8 from the line in the last two minutes.

"Yes, I may put them on my back, but I expect them to do some work, too," said Thomas, who also had 15 rebounds and six assists. "And they did. They made their free throws, got the rebounds, got the steals."

He was right. TJ outrebounded the taller Panthers, 41-25, and forward Joe Higbee added 21 points, eight rebounds and two dunks for the exclamation points on the Patriots' 13th trip to Cole Field House in Dickman's 27 seasons.

"We knew this would be tough," Thomas said. "But it was our house. We refused to lose. ... If you lose, you go home. And I didn't want to do that."

"The games we play all year ... when we get our butt kicked by St. Anthony's or whoever," Dickman said. "This is what we're playing for."

Thomas Johnson 92, Paint Branch 79



PAINT BRANCH (79)

Sears 3, Laws 2, Allen 1, Henderson 2, Evans 10, Newman-Smart 2, Oyenuga 20, Wise 34, Aluko 5. Totals 33-69 8-17 79.

THOMAS JOHNSON (92)

Foley 2, Thomas 40, Higbee 21, Wilhelm 11, Wingerd 6, Wells 12. Totals 25-50 38-49 92.

P. Branch21171130-79

T. Johnson24182129-92

Three-point goals-Paint Branch 5 (Sears, Oyenuga 2, Wise 2), Thomas Johnson 4 (Thomas 3, Wilhelm). Fouled out-Evans, Merchant (PB), Wells.

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