BY CHRIS MCMANES — DeMatha Basketball Coach Mike Jones is happy his team has two more chances to win a tournament championship this season. But hoisting another trophy will not erase the sting of losing the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title.
“I love this team, and anytime we get to go to battle together, I want that opportunity,” Jones said after the WCAC championship loss to St. Johns College High School. “… But let’s not kid ourselves; this is the one we wanted.”
The Stags open play tonight against Good Counsel in the 12-team Maryland Private Schools Championship at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro. Game time is 7:45.
If top-seeded DeMatha wins, it would play Saturday night. The title game is at Bishop McNamara on Monday at 7 p.m. The Mustangs are seeded second.
For the third straight year, the Stags (26-5) advanced to the WCAC title game but came away empty handed. St. John’s, ranked second in The Washington Post’s Top 20 – one spot above DeMatha – downed the Stags 71-57 at American University’s Bender Arena on Feb. 22.
The Cadets distanced themselves from their Hyattsville rival with a 17-4 surge in the third quarter to capture their first WCAC title since 2000. The Stags fell behind 11-2 at the outset and trailed nearly the entire first half. Their opening was in stark contrast to how well they came out of the gate in their quarterfinal and semifinal victories.
“The disappointing thing is [against Good Counsel and Gonzaga], we came out with a lot of energy,” Jones said. “We did not do that today, and it showed in the result.”
While DeMatha made just 2 of 13 3-pointers, St. John’s hit three during the third period to turn a one-point halftime lead into a 46-38 advantage heading into the final frame. The quarter ended in controversy when Stags junior Ryan Allen was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. But after the referees consulted, they ruled that the shot came after time expired.
Had Allen made all three free throws, DeMatha would have only trailed by five. Instead, a reverse layup by Kylia Sykes early in the fourth quarter gave the Cadets a 10-point lead. The Stags drew as close as six before St. John’s seized control with an 11-4 run to win its fourth Catholic league title since 1961.
DeMatha, which has won 39 conference championships during that time – more than all other WCAC schools combined – has not triumphed in the league title game since 2011.
Jones said he feels badly for his six seniors.
“You’ve got some guys who have done a lot of great things at DeMatha, but when you come here you expect in your four years that you’ll have [a championship] to put on your resume,” he said. “We didn’t get it done and that’s very unfortunate because I do believe these guys worked hard enough to get it. We just didn’t play well enough tonight.”
Maryland recruit Anthony Cowan, one of four seniors in the Cadets’ starting lineup, led all scorers with 21 points. Sykes, who recently received an offer from UNC Greensboro, had 17 points. Dejuan Clayton (Coppin State) added 15 and Jeffrey Downtin, Jr. (Rhode Island) 13.
Stags senior and McDonald’s All American Markelle Fultz struggled shooting most of the night and finished with 12 points. Junior D.J. Harvey and senior Reggie Gardner tallied nine points apiece, while seniors Nate Darling (Alabama Birmingham) and Kellon Taylor each scored eight points.
Prior to the game, Fultz and Harvey were named first-team All-WCAC.
Darling, who was recently chosen to play in the BioSteel All-Canadian all-star game on April 11 at the University of Toronto, said winning the WCAC would have made his career “complete” and was what he had been “working for all year.
Instead it was WCAC Coach of the Year Sean McAloon and St. John’s that was all smiles for the cameras at game’s end.
“I’m happy for Coach McAloon,” Jones said. “They got it done and we didn’t.”
The Cadets (28-4) didn’t fare as well in the first round of the D.C. State Athletic Association tournament Tuesday night by losing to Friendship Collegiate, 77-70.
St. John’s and DeMatha will be among eight teams to participate in the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament at Frostburg (Md.) State University March 10-12. But first up for the Stags is the third-annual Maryland Private Schools Championship, which they won for the first time last year.
“We have two more tournaments to go,” Jones said, “and I hope we get another opportunity to play for a championship.”