John Marshall alumni Jeremy Sheppard and Greg Jones made an appearance at practice Monday. They wore their state championship rings, and they charged the current team to win a ring of its own.
The Justices will have that chance, having defeated George Wythe 56-40 on Tuesday night in the Class 3 state semifinals at the Arthur Ashe Center. JM will face Western Albemarle in Saturday’s state final. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Siegel Center.
The Justices (21-6) last won a state title in 2014. Sheppard was a guard on that team who went to East Carolina. Jones, a forward, headed to James Madison. They took pride in the John Marshall program, junior DeMarr McRae said. It was something he noticed when he joined the team as a freshman, and it’s one of the things he likes most about playing for JM.
McRae again led the Justices in scoring, recording 15 points. It’s the third game in a row he’s been their highest scorer. He can feel himself maturing, he said, and he can feel his skills developing.
“I like competing against the best in the state,” McRae said. “I get to ball with my guys.”
George Wythe (21-4) led 21-14 midway through the second quarter after Ikechi Chantilou and Eugene Williams hit back-to-back 3s.
Then John Marshall’s Elijah Seward and McRae answered with 3s of their own. The Justices locked down on defense, scored 18 straight points and held George Wythe scoreless for more than seven minutes.
Before this year, John Marshall exclusively ran a man-to-man defense. Then coach Ty White installed some zone defenses, including a 2-2-1 full-court press, which they learned from watching VCU and employed Tuesday night.
Defense has been a focal point of the team this year. The team already could score well, White figured. If it could play great defense, it could be well-rounded — maybe state-championship caliber.
“We all take big pride in defense,” McRae said.
The defense was a lot better than last Saturday, Isaiah Todd said, when John Marshall allowed 74 points to Phoebus and was nearly knocked out of the playoffs.
Wythe shot 31 percent (14 of 45) and was 6 of 23 from behind the arc.
Asked if this team was better defensively than John Marshall teams of the past, White said, “To be determined.” Ultimately, what John Marshall does Saturday against Western Albemarle will determine this group’s legacy.
Todd, a sophomore wing, scored 15 points and was 3 of 5 from behind the arc. Darrel Purdie guarded him man to man almost the whole night.
“That made it hard to shoot the 3-ball,” Todd said.
In the fourth quarter, Todd started finding some space with which to work. He made back-to-back 3s, then sank 2 of 3 free throws, ensuring JM would maintain a double-digit lead.
Sophomore Ikechi Chantilou led George Wythe with 17 points; Jarec Brown added 14.
The last time these teams played, two weeks ago at John Marshall, the Justices won 83-64. This time around, Wythe did a better job slowing down John Marshall's offense. But it didn't find any answers for scoring the ball.
GEORGE WYTHE (21-4) — Darrell Purdie 1, Ikechi Chantilou 17, Eugene Williams 6, Jarec Brown 14, Zamare Johnston 2, Kevin Hubbard 0, Maurice Laster 0. Totals: 14 6-11 40.
JOHN MARSHALL (21-6) — Demarr McRae 19, Isaiah Todd 15, Elijah Seward 12, Roosevelt Wheeler 6, Levar Allen 4, Jarius Ashlock 0, Curvonte Briley 0, Aubrey Merrit 0, Tyreec Pryor 0. Totals: 20 9-16 56.
George Wythe 10 11 7 12 — 40
John Marshall 10 17 10 19 — 56
3-point goals: — GW: Ikechi Chantilou 3, Eugene Williams 2, Jarec Brown 1 JM: Demarr McRae 2, Isaiah Todd 3, Elijah Seward 2.