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Jao Ituka takes over when it matters as the Gaithersburg boys hold off Magruder

Jao Ituka takes over when it matters as the Gaithersburg boys hold off Magruder

Ituka spread the ball around most of the game, but the junior scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the final six minutes of No. 11 Gaithersburg’s 84-77 win in Rockville.

“Taking over is something the best player on the court has to do,” Ituka said. “Tonight I proved that. I had to let them know we’re still here, we still got the lead, we still got the composure — and we got to keep going.”

Last season, Ituka scored his 1,000th career point and helped the Trojans (2-0) remain one of Montgomery County’s top teams. He had running mate Jordan Hawkins for that run. But over the offseason, Hawkins transferred to DeMatha, leaving Ituka with more responsibility.

For three quarters against Magruder (0-2), Gaithersburg proved it can win without Ituka dominating. The Trojans shared the ball, and three other players scored in double figures, led by forward Chris Kouemi’s 20 points.

“Jao doesn’t always need to get 25 or 30,” Gaithersburg Coach Jeff Holda said. “He’s recognizing more and more that he has talent around him, and I think that’s everything for us going forward.”

Holda knows Ituka can succeed by driving to the basket, but the fifth-year coach wants his standout guard to become a more complete player by passing when the opponent is targeting him and shooting more three-pointers.

Holda admitted that is difficult to tell Ituka at times, because he knows the native of Cameroon can score at will. In Gaithersburg’s season-opening win over Walter Johnson on Friday, Ituka had 30 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.

“Even when he makes the wrong decision — or maybe not the best decision — the ball still goes through the hoop a lot of times,” Holda said.

Gaithersburg built a 30-point lead in the second quarter Tuesday, but the Colonels rallied to cut their deficit to 10 with just over six minutes left in the game. That’s when Ituka decided he needed to be more aggressive, which is likely to be a theme as Gaithersburg competes for the Maryland 4A championship.

“In a close game, Jao can get us an easy two points,” Kouemi said. “We got to understand that and let him just do him.”

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