Howard girls basketball coach Scott Robinson had scouted Paint Branch more than sufficiently before Thursday's 4A North Section II final.
But facing the Panthers on the court was a different story.
"They're a prolific shooting team," said Robinson, whose team fell to visiting Paint Branch, 65-49, Thursday night. "They can really light it up. They've got great guards and they're athletic ... they're a very difficult team to defend because of the guards and they have some size, too."
The game was back and forth for the first six minutes, before Paint Branch finally went on a 9-0 run to end the first quarter with a 17-8 lead. Sophomore 6-foot-3 center Sofilia Ngwafang (10 points) collected her first six points in the last 90 seconds of the first quarter.
By halftime, Paint Branch (16-3) had expanded its lead to 29-17, with Drexel-bound junior guard Daisa Harris (game-high 20 points) netting six points in just over 60 seconds shortly before halftime.
But the Howard County champion Lions (23-3) would not go down without a fight in their home gym.
A 5-0 run to start the third quarter — fueled by a Sydney Biniak (8 points) layup, two Berit Batterton free throws, and a Jayda Gilmore (team-high 13 points) three — cut the Panthers' lead to five, which is around where it stayed for much of the third quarter.
"We just kind of buckled down on defense ... we just tried to cut off their drives and play good help-side defense, and on offense just running our plays. We were getting open shots exactly where we wanted so we just tried to slow down our offense and make things go," said Batterton, who finished with 10 points.
But while Howard's scoring increased, Paint Branch kept up the pace, eventually stretching its lead back to 12, at 48-36, by the end of the third quarter. The Lions never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
"Controlling the boards and staying together on defense, that was a big thing for us," Paint Branch coach Rochelle Coleman said.
Panthers guards Kiara Colston (14) and Tyra Sinclair (11) combined for another 25 points.
Paint Branch will now play the winner of Perry Hall and Catonsville on Saturday at 5 p.m.