By Chris McManes

Put the DeMatha basketball team on a bus or plane and they tend to perform better. Allow the boys to walk to the Looney Convocation Center for a game and they struggle. 

The latest example came Jan. 17 at home against St. John’s. The Stags were outscored by 15 points in the second quarter and went on to lose, 72-62. 

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Senior Prashant Hill goes in for a layup in DeMatha’s 76-61 loss to St. Paul VI on Jan. 10. The Stags are 3-4 at home, 4-2 at neutral sites and 5-0 on the road. Courtesy of Ed King

DeMatha, 12-6 overall, is 3-4 at home and 9-2 when playing on the road or on a neutral site. Stags Coach Mike G. Jones, in his first year at the helm, doesn’t know exactly why. 

“We play so much better on the road for some reason,” Jones said. “It’s my job to try to figure out what we can do differently when we play at home.” 

Part of the reason DeMatha has underperformed on its home court is the quality of competition. Three of its four losses have come to nationally ranked teams: St. John’s, St. Paul VI and John Marshall of Richmond. PVI is ranked No. 6 by ESPN and Marshall No. 15. 

The Stags are not ranked in the Top 50 but check in No. 10 locally by The Washington Post. St. John’s is ranked fourth by the Post and 25th by ESPN. 

DeMatha plays Word of God Christian Academy on Saturday (1:30 p.m.) Jan. 21 at Capital One Arena. The Holy Rams beat the Stags on Dec. 16, 63-62, on a game-winning shot by Tennessee signee Freddie Dilione. 

DeMatha’s only other loss on a road/neutral court this year was to Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, Calif. The Stags followed that the next day with a 78-76 win over Southern California Academy. Mason So led the way with a season-high 25 points. 

DeMatha is riding a seven-game winning streak in away/neutral games. Included among these is a 58-55 victory over Dream City Christian (20-2) of Glendale, Ariz., and a 69-50 win at Good Counsel, which last week won at St. John’s, 72-64. 

So while the quality of opponents can partially account for the Stags’ disparate home and road record, other factors could also be at play. Perhaps the players feel less pressure competing in someone else’s gym. Trying to impress family, friends and fellow students can have a negative effect on you mentally and result in poorer play. 

And then there’s trying to live up to DeMatha’s tremendous legacy of success. This is particularly strong at home, where banners proudly proclaim the Stags’ 41 conference championships and six national crowns. 

“I think the guys are a little more relaxed on the road,” Jones said. “They trust our sets more and our pace is a little better. Here [at home], we just walk the ball up, we’re kind of lethargic, the ball sticks. And teams play us physically. PVI did a good job of playing us physical, and so did St. John’s.”

DeMatha returns home to play Georgetown Prep on Sunday Jan. 22. The Stags play at Archbishop Carroll the following Tuesday and then host Bishop McNamara on Thursday. 

“Right now, we’re two different teams,” Jones said “We’re a really good team on the road and just an average team at home. We’ve got to change the narrative.” 

St. John’s 72, DeMatha 62

After scoring eight straight points to take an 18-13 lead just inside the second quarter, DeMatha allowed a 9-0 run and never regained the advantage. The Cadets took their biggest lead, 61-39, on a 3-pointer by Tim Barton with 6:22 left in the game. 

St. John’s had a 20-point cushion with 1:47 to play before the Stags scored 11 of the final 12 points. 

“St. John’s did a great job of just mucking up our sets, bumping us. We just weren’t willing to be physical tonight,” Jones said. “And then on top of that, we didn’t shoot the ball well from [3-point range]. It was a recipe for disaster.”

Harvard signee Malik Mack paced the Cadets with 18 points. Barton had 16, Daquan Davis scored 15 and Donnie Freeman 13. 

Junior Malcom Thomas led DeMatha with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Senior Jaden Winston had 12 points, two assists and three steals. Mason So produced nine points and four boards, and fellow senior Adam Fox contributed five points and six rebounds. 

With the win, St. John’s improved to 16-1 and 6-0 in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. The Stags fell to 4-3 in the WCAC

Capitol Hoops Challenge at DeMatha

The Looney Convocation Center will host the Capitol Hoops Challenge presented by the Washington Wizards on Saturday and Sunday Jan. 21-22. The Stags’ game against Word of God at Capital One Arena is part of the event and is one of four games that will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Washington. 

The Wizards and NBCSW are touting the games as “Basketball Day in the DMV.” 

The Capitol Hoops Challenge will kick off with Patriot vs. Largo at 10 a.m. Saturday. The final game of the day pits Eleanor Roosevelt against Hayfield at 8:45 p.m. 

On Sunday, action gets underway at 10 a.m. with St. Mary’s Ryken playing Sandy Spring followed by Good Counsel vs. Takoma Academy at 11:15. DeMatha and Georgetown Prep will wrap things up at 6:15 p.m. 

Live streaming is also available. 

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisMcManes1.