By Chris McManes
DeMatha Catholic High School has opened the curtain on a new basketball era. The early reviews are good.
Mike G. Jones, named head coach in May, has guided the Stags to a 3-1 start. They began their home schedule Dec. 6 with a 77-63 victory over Eleanor Roosevelt.
Jaden Winston led the way with 15 points, and fellow senior Isaiah Arnold had 11. Thirteen of DeMatha’s 19 players scored.
“I like that you can’t focus in on one player on our team,” Jones said. “We have multiple guys who can score 10, 15 points, even higher. On the defensive side of the ball, we have several guys who can play multiple positions, which make us really effective down the stretch.”
It was defense that turned the tide against Roosevelt, the reigning Maryland 4A state champion. Trailing 9-3, the Stags’ full-court press and trapping fueled a 14-0 run that put them ahead to stay. DeMatha forced the Raiders into 12 first-quarter turnovers, including a backcourt violation and a five-second infraction.
“Defensively we played well in spurts, and then we kind of took some plays off,” Jones said. “We’re really trying to get the boys to lock in on taking charges and picking up the tendencies of the other players. Overall, we got into a rhythm.
“We had some first [home-game] jitters. I think everybody wanted to play well. It was one of those situations where we just had to fight against ourselves.”
Junior A.J. McCleary added 10 points for the Stags. Half came on a 3-pointer off a pass from Darius Vance and a fastbreak layup following a Kade Sebastian steal. DeMatha took a 43-31 lead into halftime.
But Roosevelt, which finished 21-5 last year and was playing its season opener, began the second half on a 10-2 run to draw within 45-41.
McCleary answered with a trey, and he and Arnold scored on transition layups. Winston had a steal and two assists during the sequence. Prashant Hill concluded the 9-0 outburst with two free throws.
The Stags recorded 22 assists on the night. “At some points of the game, the ball was moving really well [and we] had energy,” Jones said. “We did a pretty good job of sharing the ball. The thing we really need to work on is being totally unselfish all the time.”
DeMatha will also have to work on ball security. While forcing 29 turnovers, it committed 20.
“We got the ball kind of stuck at times,” Jones said. “We’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff of getting them to move the ball and trust their teammates on the offensive end.”
Senior Tobi Raji led Roosevelt with a game-high 20 points. Jermaine Gulledge added 16 and Bryson Whitley 12.
Jones became head coach in April after leading St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes of Alexandria, Va., to three straight Interstate Athletic Conference championships. The Saints were 20-4 last year and finished No. 3 in the Washington area.
Jones replaced interim coach Pete Strickland, who guided the Stags to a 21-7 season and the championship of the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament. Strickland stepped in when Mike K. Jones left after 19 seasons and 511 victories to become associate head coach at Virginia Tech.
Coast to coast – It’s been a whirlwind of a start for the Stags. They opened the season Dec. 1 with a 36-point victory at Coolidge in Washington, D.C. The next day, they had a super-early flight to Los Angeles, where they split two weekend games. They arrived back after midnight Monday morning.
Local rankings – In The Washington Post’s first rankings of the season, DeMatha checked in at No. 6. Roosevelt is 11th.
Among other Washington Catholic Athletic Conference teams, Paul VI is No. 1, Gonzaga No. 3, St. John’s fourth, McNamara eighth, O’Connell 12th and Good Counsel 19th.
Paul VI is the reigning WCAC champion.
Tournament at DeMatha – The Looney Convocation Center will host the National High School Hoops Festival on Dec. 10-11. The 11-game showcase begins at noon each day.
The Stags will play John Marshall of Richmond, Va., on Saturday at 8:45 p.m. On Sunday, they will tipoff at 7 p.m. with Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia.
Admission is $20 per day.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisMcManes1.