BY CHRIS MCMANES — McDonald’s All-American Markelle Fultz made some spectacular shots in DeMatha’s 66-62 victory at sold-out Gonzaga on Sunday. The final seven points he scored were rather pedestrian but far more important.
Fultz, a combo guard ranked by ESPN as the 10th-best senior in the country, finished with a game-high 28 points, including the 1,000th of his career. His performance helped the Stags rally from a 14-point deficit late in the first half. He had plenty of help.
D.J. Harvey produced a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Josh Carlton came off the bench to tally nine boards and four blocks. During a 13-2 run that allowed DeMatha to tie the game at 45, five players scored.
The win avenges the Stags’ 73-70 home loss to Gonzaga 11 days prior and puts them into a tie for first place in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC). DeMatha exited Carmody Center 18-3 and 10-1 in the WCAC and moved back to No. 1 in The Washington Post Top 20.
The formerly top-ranked Purple Eagles fell to 17-3 and 9-2. Sophomore Prentiss Hubb led Gonzaga with 26 points and hit six 3-pointers. Junior point guard Chris Lykes added 21 points.
The Eagles were splashing so many treys in the first half that you might have thought it was against the rules to shoot from inside the arc. They scored 15 points on five consecutive 3-balls – two by Lykes and three by Hubb – to take an early second-quarter lead of 23-12.
The Stags countered with a 9-0 sprint that featured Fultz assisting on a Harvey 3-pointer and making an acrobatic reverse layup. Freshman Marvin Price’s layup brought DeMatha to within 23-21 with 5:01 to go before halftime.
Hubb then went ballistic with a personal 12-0 run that included three triples from the left wing – one off the backboard – and an old-fashioned three-point play. His white-hot shooting display across one minute and 24 seconds gave Gonzaga its biggest bulge of the game, 35-21. Most of his attempts came without a Stags defender close enough to contest his shot.
“In the first half, we didn’t know where he was,” DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. “They’d throw it to him and it was like, ‘oh shoot he has it,’ and by that time it’s too late. In the second half, we knew where he was.”
The Stags went into halftime trailing 41-30 after the Eagles made 14 of 26 shots (54 percent), including 9 of 15 (60 percent) from long distance. Most of Gonzaga’s points came from open looks and layups as DeMatha turned in perhaps its worst defensive half of the season.
That all changed in the final 16 minutes.
Carlton, the Stags’ tallest player at 6-foot-9, started the third quarter in place of Kellon Taylor, who was saddled with three fouls. Carlton began the 13-2 DeMatha run by following his own miss inside. Ryan Allen scored on a baseline jumper off the dribble, and after two Nate Darling free throws, had a three-point play to trim the DeMatha shortfall to 43-39.
Harvey scored on a layup, and Darling came up with a loose ball and passed ahead to Allen. The junior, who last week received a scholarship offer from George Mason, threw an alley-oop that Fultz slammed home. A reverse layup on a great move by Harvey knotted the contest at 45 with 2:25 left in the quarter.
Carlton blocked a runner and a layup by Lykes in the period, and the Stags outscored their Northwest Washington rival 16-6 to head into the final frame tied at 47. Those Eagle triples that were finding net before the break were off-mark in the third.
“Shots were starting not to fall because our coach (Steve Turner) said our legs were tired; that’s why we were missing our shots more,” Hubb said. “And to add to that, their zone wasn’t really like stopping us completely, it was just how lengthy they were. So it was harder to get more open shots.”
DeMatha didn’t make any major defensive changes at halftime but guarded much better and rotated quicker from the help side. Gonzaga shot just six of 23 (26 percent) in the second half, including a dismal one-for-eight from 3-point land.
The 6’ 4’’ Fultz, who also contributed nine rebounds and eight assists, said he and his teammates came out of the locker room determined to play more tenacious defense.
“We like to play defense, and to give up 41 points in a half was just unacceptable,” Fultz said. “I think the whole team noticed it. We all came together and said we’re going to stop them from scoring. We stopped them when we first came out and took it step by step, stop by stop, and just scored every time we got the chance.”
Allen hit a fastbreak layup off a steal and assist by Harvey, and Fultz sank a long jumper to put the Stags on top, 59-53, with 3:27 to play. Lykes, who recently received an offer from Villanova, turned a runner into a three-point play at the 2:19 mark to cut the DeMatha margin to 59-58.
Fultz made sure that was as close as the Eagles would get. First he hit a short jumper from the right wing off a drive-and-dish from Taylor and then made three of four free throws. Two Lykes’ freebies narrowed the Stags’ lead to 64-60 with 24.9 seconds left.
Gonzaga fouled right away, and Allen missed the front end of a one-and-one. Hubb, who was virtually unstoppable earlier, misfired on a corner three and Fultz collected the rebound, was fouled and converted two from the line. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, including his team’s final nine.
“He took what was there,” Jones said. “One of the most impressive things about Markelle is that he just plays basketball the right way. Of all the baskets he had tonight, he didn’t force one of them. If somebody came and doubled him, he gave the ball up to somebody else.
DeMatha plays three games this week: Tuesday at Bishop Ireton, Wednesday at Good Counsel and Friday at home against Bishop O’Connell. USA Today ranks the Stags’ the 10th-best team in the country. The Eagles’ fell from 10th to 14th.
DeMatha is tied with St. John’s atop the WCAC but holds the tiebreaker by virtue of its 59-57 victory over the Cadets on Jan. 9. A loss to Gonzaga would have dropped the Stags into second place.
“I thought we did what we needed to do in the second half,” said Jones, last year’s WCAC Coach of the Year. “Fortunately enough, we weren’t down so far that we couldn’t come back.”