By CHRIS McMANES — Two days after top-ranked DeMatha won at No. 2 St. John’s in a premier Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game, it returned home to face Bishop McNamara. Although not a marquee matchup, the Stags say they take every game seriously.
“I think it’s pretty easy to stay focused,” DeMatha senior Donovan Miller said. “We look forward to every game.”
The Stags, 11-2 overall, will put their 5-0 WCAC record on the line tonight at No. 4 Gonzaga (11-4, 5-2). Tip-off is 7:30 on North Capitol Street in Washington. The Eagles are coming off a 62-54 loss at No. 6 Paul VI.
“A WCAC game is a WCAC game, and I know a lot of people are like, ‘Yeah, right,’ but I don’t care if its McNamara, if it’s O’Connell, if it’s Ireton, if it’s Carroll, Good Counsel, it doesn’t matter,” DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. “It doesn’t have to be Paul VI or Gonzaga or St. John’s for them to have our attention.
“If we’re going to be the best team we can be, everybody deserves our ultimate attention or we’re gonna get clipped. And we don’t want to get clipped.”
In their Jan. 9 win over St. John’s, the Stags fell behind by eight points in the first half. Senior Earl Timberlake, who has committed to play for Miami, had just three points at halftime. He unloaded in the second half with 21 points to lead DeMatha to a 68-62 victory.
“It’s a league road win. All of those are incredibly valuable,” Jones said. “St. John’s is really good, and they’re gonna be good for a long time because they they’ve got talent – kind of like us – spread throughout the program. Everyone’s not a senior, junior or sophomore. They’ve got a great freshman class.
“St. John’s is also one of the original and longstanding successful programs in our league. Their program deserves our attention, our respect. So, anytime you can beat a team like that on the road, we should celebrate. Just happy with our guys.”
Trailing 31-27 at the break, junior Jordan Hawkins scored the Stags’ next seven points to give DeMatha its first lead (34-33) since the 2:47 mark of the first quarter. Timberlake notched his first field goal late in the third period to spur an 11-0 quarter-spanning run that gave the Stags a 46-41 lead.
Hawkins, a Gaithersburg High School transfer known for his outside shooting and defense, blocked his second shot of the period during the outburst. Timberlake added a 3-pointer and a free throw.
Senior Hunter Dickinson, DeMatha’s 7-foot-2 center who committed to Michigan just before Christmas, took a Timberlake pass underneath to close the run with a slam dunk.
The Cadets (14-2, 6-1) fought back to tie the game at 49. Dickinson and Timberlake proceeded to show why they were two of the nation’s most sought-after prep stars. In less than a minute, Timberlake hit a short driving layup, blocked a shot, hit two free throws and assisted on another Dickinson dunk.
Behind Ishmael Leggett (22 points), St. John’s remained in the game. The Rhode Island recruit scored six of his team’s next nine points to draw the Cadets to within one, 57-56, with 2:33 to play. Timberlake followed by taking junior Elijah Hawkins’ pass and nailing a triple from the right wing.
Hawkins hit arguably the biggest shot of the game on a floater to put DeMatha up, 64-60. Timberlake closed the Red and Blue’s scoring with four consecutive free throws. He tallied 15 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 24. His athleticism was on full display late when he avoided a block with a double pump and hit a reverse layup.
Jones is not surprised by Timberlake, who joined the Stags as a sophomore and has won MVP of the past two DeMatha Christmas Classics.
“That’s what tough kids do. That’s what All-Americans do,” he said. “It’s not the first time we’ve seen Earl do that and, hopefully, it’s not the last time.”
DeMatha 74, McNamara 53 – There was no way the Stags were looking past this game, Jan. 11 at DeMatha’s Looney Convocation Center. Particularly after the Mustangs’ recent road win at then-No. 1 Paul VI, 60-55. At the end of the first quarter, the teams were tied at 19.
The Stags stormed ahead to stay with a 23-3 blitzkrieg to lead 42-22. The DeMatha defense limited McNamara to two second-quarter field goals and nailed eight 3-pointers in the opening 16 minutes to take a 45-24 lead into the locker room.
Jones was pleased with his squad’s defensive intensity. Particularly during the decisive run.
“We played pretty good defense. Limited them to one shot, and we made shots on the other end,” he said. “We were unselfish with the basketball. I can’t remember how many of our shots in the first half were unassisted, but a lot of them were because we made the right play, made the right pass.
“So, if we’re gonna share the ball like that, we’re gonna be pretty good.”
The Stags finished with 12 3-pointers overall in winning their seventh straight.
“We’re in a good stretch right now,” Miller said. “The team is playing really well together.”
Jones said the Mustangs (7-5, 4-4) were the first DeMatha opponent this season to open in a zone defense.
“It’s not that zone means you’ve got to shoot threes,” he said, “but we knew they were gonna play zone, and we were kind of prepared to launch a few from the outside to get started.”
The Stags will host The Heights on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and then travel to St. Mary’s Ryken on Thursday, which adds up to five WCAC games in eight days. Miller said it’s not taxing to play that many times in a short period.
“I enjoy that because I’m pretty used to be it [from] the AAU season,” he said. “We usually have like three games in a day during a tournament. It’s fun.”
Notes –DeMatha alumnus Austin Freeman, who played at Georgetown prior to his professional career, has joined the Stags freshman coaching staff. As a senior in 2006-07, he was named All-Met Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American. He helped lead DeMatha to three straight WCAC championships. … The Stags freshman and JV teams, under head coaches John Rogers and Derrick Banks, respectively, remained undefeated Saturday. … Mike Jones, a DeMatha Hall of Famer, needs one win to reach 480 career victories.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is an assistant baseball coach at DeMatha.