By CHRIS McMANES — Two of the top players in the nation met in the waning seconds of a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal Sunday night. Casey Morsell left the floor in jubilation. Justin Moore departed in disappointment.
Morsell’s block of Moore’s driving jumper sealed No. 8 St. John’s 53-52 victory over top-ranked DeMatha. The loss prevented the Stags (27-5) from repeating as WCAC champs.
The Cadets (23-10) advanced to Monday night’s final against Gonzaga but lost, 60-56. The Eagles rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to down Paul VI, 63-55, in Sunday’s other semifinal.
The Stags’ season continues as the top seed in the Maryland Private School Championship. They open play at Bishop McNamara against St. Andrew’s Episcopal tonight at 7:30. DeMatha is happy to seek another title in the event, but the focus of its season was to capture the school’s record-41st Catholic league title.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” Stags senior Carsten Kogelnik said outside a somber locker room Sunday at American University’s Bender Arena.
Moore, one of 12 players chosen to play for the USA Nike Hoop Summit team in Portland, Ore., on April 12, said he was “very disappointed, but I’m proud of my guys for fighting.”
Morsell, a 6-foot-3 senior who will play at Virginia, scored a team-high 16 points. Darius Maddox and Ishmael Leggett had 12 each.
DeMatha junior Earl Timberlake led all scorers with 19 points. Moore finished with 15, and Hunter Dickinson tallied nine.
Morsell’s long jumper off the dribble gave St. John’s a 53-49 lead with 46.6 seconds remaining.
“Casey hit a lot of shots and had a great game,” Kogelnik said. “We just didn’t make the plays, and they did.”
Leggett later blocked Jahmir Young’s corner 3-point attempt before Morsell missed the front end of a one-and-one. Timberlake grabbed the rebound and nailed a 3-pointer to pull the Deer Men within one.
The Stags fouled, and senior Jalin Abbott missed his first one-and-one attempt. Timberlake gathered the ball and carried it across midcourt before DeMatha called timeout with 4.7 seconds to go.
Dickinson, the Stags’ 7-1 junior center, inbounded the ball to Moore at the top of the key. The senior Villanova signee drove left down the lane against Leggett. Morsell, who drifted off Timberlake to head underneath the basket, rose up and blocked the shot into a teammate’s waiting hands.
DeMatha executed the play Jones called in the final timeout.
“I wouldn’t do that any differently,” Stags Coach Mike Jones said. “Justin’s All-American, one of the best players in the country. We got the ball in his hands. It was just a great defensive play on a great offensive player.”
The game began to get away from DeMatha when it was unable to extend its five-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Instead, St. John’s rattled off six straight points, four by Morsell.
“We just never put them away,” Jones said. “We never really made them think, ‘OK, DeMatha’s about to blow this game open.’ And we needed to do that, but we didn’t do it.”
Kogelnik lamented allowing the game to hinge on one possession.
“We feel like we should have been up the whole time,” he said. “We never want to put ourselves in the position to be in a one-possession game. We feel like we’re better than everybody we play, so we should have gotten ahead way earlier.”
The Stags went up for the final time, 46-44, on a Timberlake follow shot, at the 3:52 mark. The junior guard’s two free throws narrowed the Cadet lead to 51-49 with 1:10 to go.
DeMatha, which has won 25 or more games 54 times in its history, will close the season March 7-9 in Frostburg, Md., as reigning champs in the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament. Paul VI, St. Johns and Gonzaga will also participate.
“Our season’s not over,” Kogelnik said. “We have more things to play for.”
DeMatha, following its 78-57 at Paul VI on Feb. 4, stood 21-2 and 13-0 in the WCAC. Things began to go awry when Jahmir Young hurt an ankle in the Stags’ next game, a 65-58 loss at Gonzaga. He didn’t play in the five remaining regular-season games.
DeMatha showed a lot of grit in its 69-63 overtime victory at St. John’s on Feb. 12. The Stags then squeaked by with two-point home wins over McNamara and Carroll. They had beaten those clubs by 39 and 47 points, respectively, in earlier meetings.
DeMatha finished 18-2 in league play, tied with Paul VI. The Stags won the regular-season title by virtue of their two victories over the Panthers.
Young finally returned to the lineup in DeMatha’s WCAC quarterfinal win over Good Counsel on Saturday Feb. 23.
Stags Coach Mike Jones agreed that Young’s absence played a key role in his club’s late-season struggles but made no excuses following the loss to St. John’s in the WCAC semis.
“We were winning at halftime at Gonzaga, and he gets hurt,” Jones said. “We didn’t play well until he came back. … Jahmir’s a huge part of what we do, and we really missed him for a while. We had him today. He played very well, [but] we lost.”
DeMatha senior shooting guard Justin Moore said the team needed Young.
“Jahmir does a lot for us,” Moore said. “He can score, defend, he does it all. He’s really a great player for us.”
DeMatha, which had been ranked No. 1 by The Washington Post all year, dropped to No. 5. Gonzaga moved from fourth to No. 2. St. John’s is third, and Paul VI is No. 6.
John Marshall, who caught the winning Hail Mary in Gonzaga’s 46-43 victory over DeMatha in the WCAC football championship, is also a member of the Eagles’ title-winning basketball team. The 6-foot-2 wide receiver and basketball guard is the only Gonzaga student to play for both clubs.
Marshall was a first-team All-Met selection in football. He had 997 receiving yards and caught 12 touchdown passes. He will play football at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Raving about Timberlake
DeMatha junior Earl Timberlake is arguably the most talented player in the WCAC. The 6-5 wing has the strength, skill and quickness to dominate opponents on both ends of the court. He is sorting through numerous scholarship offers.
Despite the off-center rotation he puts on his shots, Timberlake’s long- and mid-range shooting has become particularly accurate. It was his turnaround jumper in the lane that lifted the Stags to a 56-54 overtime victory over Wilson in the championship of the inaugural DeMatha Christmas Classic. He was named tournament MVP.
“I’m proud of how much growth he’s had in the last year,” Stags Coach Mike Jones said. “His jump shot is becoming something that you have to guard. He’s going to play basketball for a very long time at a very high level.”
Justin Moore (DeMatha), Casey Morsell (St. John’s) and Trevor Keels (Paul VI) shared WCAC Player of the Year honors.
Earl Timberlake and Hunter Dickinson were also named first-team All-WCAC. Joining them atop the eight-man team were freshman Dug McDaniel (Paul VI), senior Mekhi Long (Bishop McNamara) and junior Terrance Williams (Gonzaga).
DeMatha senior Jahmir Young, who will play for the Charlotte 49ers next year, was named to the second team. Honorable mention recognition went to fellow seniors Carsten Kogelnik (Brown) and Massachusetts football signee Josh Wallace.
Paul VI’s Glenn Farello was named Coach of the Year. Despite losing two of the nation’s top players to injury in Jeremy Roach and Anthony Harris, Farello has led a young Panthers squad to 24 victories (and counting).
Farello has high praise for Keels.
“Trevor’s been amazing all year for us,” he said. “He’s had a phenomenal year as a sophomore. He’s stepped up with Jeremy and Ant out. So, I’m really proud of how he’s kind of taken on that [leadership] responsibility as a sophomore.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has won three national writing awards reporting on DeMatha basketball.