Hyattsville ~ For the first time since the 2018 WCAC championship, DeMatha and Gonzaga, two proud teams with plenty of rich tradition and history met for the first time this season.
For Gonzaga, it was a chance to exact some revenge and gain a little redemption from last years defeat. The storyline for DeMatha -ad the defending championship team was letting everyone know that the conference runs through them.
“Just try to come and make a statement,” Jahmir Young said, “We know we gotta (target) on our back so we gotta come ready to play.”
DeMatha reigned supreme over Gonzaga,62-58, in arguably the fiercest rivalry in the WCAC. The Stags relied on balance offensively with four players scoring in double-figures. Justin Moore led the way with 13-points, Jahmir Young and Earl Timberlake had 12-points apiece, and Hunter Dickinson dropped 11-points of his own.
The Purple Eagles also had a trio of double-digit performers on their side. Anwar Gill and Myles Stute tied for team lead with 11-points, while Josh Watt flanked them with 10-points of his own.
“We pride ourselves (on) being team guys and making sure everyone gets part of the share,” Moore said, “When we move the ball, and play together we’re a hard team to stop.”
After a free flowing first quarter where DeMatha and Gonzaga combined for 47 points, the two teams knew they had to settle in defensively. Getting a bucket was increasingly difficult the rest of the way during the decidedly defensive slugfest.
For the Eagles, big man Terrance William (nine-points) was in foul trouble, forcing Gonzaga head coach Steve Turner to play with lineups that found it difficult to score the ball. The offensive futility was exasperated while DeMatha went on a 9-0 run, highlighted by a Earl Timberlake block on Stute and a forced shot-clock violations.
Gonzaga was nearly blanked in the second quarter until Anwar Gill gathered an offensive rebound and laid it up to make it 33-27. Josh Watts then hit a 3-pointer off a John Marshall feed, and on the ensuing possession popped a trey of his own to make it a 36-33 game at the half.
“No defense in the first quarter though that was awful,” Stags head coach Mike Jones said candidly, “That was awful on both sides. 25-22 at a DeMatha-Gonzaga game? That never happens.
Heading into the final frame after a back-and-forth third quarter, the Stags and Eagles were primed for a scintillating finish. After Stute gave Gonzaga a one-point edge after knocking down a pair of free throws, the Stags responded with a decisive an 8-0 run.
Punctuated by a sequence where Carsten Kogelnik splashed home a 3-pointer, Justin Moore drew a charge on the subsequent possession, then Earl Timberlake capped it off with an up-and-under layup and gave the Stags a 54-46 lead they wouldn’t give up.
With under 40 seconds to go, Turner decided to play the game straight up trying to avoid sending anybody to the line before Moore converted both free throws on his second trip to the line to give the Stags a 60-55 lead.
The strategy shaved 14 seconds off the clock. The Eagles responded when freshman Devin Dinkins cashed a 3-ball off a dish from Stute to make it a 60-58 lead. That would be as close as the Eagles got, as Timberlake iced the game away with a pair of free throws to make up the final four-point deficit.
“We’ve been doing a good job all year of just staying composed,” Moore said “We gotta do a (better) job of finishing games. We’ll get a lead up and we keep letting them come back and come back so we gotta put them away earlier.”