DeMatha notches big victory over nationally ranked basketball rival
By Chris McManes
Even the most diehard of DeMatha basketball fans didn’t feel good about the No. 18 Stags’ chances against Gonzaga on Jan. 31. DeMatha entered having lost four of five contests, an uncharacteristic stretch for the area’s all-time best basketball program.
The Eagles (18-4), meanwhile, were ranked fifth in the DMV and 18th in the nation.
Instead of wilting, the Stags (14-9) earned what Mike G. Jones agreed was the biggest win of his first season as DeMatha’s head coach.
“Yeah, I would say so,” Jones said. “Any time you can beat Gonzaga, a well-coached team that plays hard and executes, it’s very good.”
Not only did the Stags down one of their biggest Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rivals, 61-53, they did so after building a double-digit lead and taking the Eagles’ best shot.
It was the exact opposite of what they did four days prior when a 14-point lead evaporated in a 71-68 loss to Bishop McNamara.
“The difference is we weathered the storm,” Jones said. “We made shots and executed down the stretch.”
Junior Malcolm Thomas paced DeMatha at the Looney Convocation Center with 14 points and seven rebounds. Seniors Mason So and Jaden Winston each had 10 points and six boards.
Sophomore Nyk Lewis, who played for nearby St. Jerome Parish, led Gonzaga with 14 points. Senior Ryan Sabol added 11.
A Winston 3-pointer from the top of the key put the Stags ahead 53-44 with 5:15 to go in the game. The Eagles narrowed the lead to 53-47 by making 3 of 6 free throws. After senior Isaiah Arnold stole the ball, Jones called timeout with 2:48 remaining. So then found Thomas for a short jumper to put DeMatha back up by eight.
Thomas Batties sandwiched a pair of treys around a short driving jumper by Thomas to pull Gonzaga within four, 57-53. So sealed the victory by hitting a layup and then knifing his way into the lane for an off-balance shot off the glass.
“We did a really good job, especially coming out of the [timeout],” Jones said. “We got Malcolm the ball in good scoring position and he got a nice shot. And then Mason closed us out pretty well.
“It’s just getting guys to understand time and score and getting them used to these type of situations. It’s their first time they’re being asked to do what I’m asking them to do. We’re just going to have to figure it out, take it game by game.”
Thomas, whose mom (Nicole) and dad (Etan) played basketball at Syracuse (and Etan in the NBA), made 6 of 11 field goals. The late shots he hit were huge.
“Toward the end, I feel as though I needed to assert myself,” Thomas said. “I felt like we had to get some momentum back because it started to shift. We just needed to close out the game. I think that was the best way to help my team.”
So, who lives in Burke, Va., has committed to the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Thomas wasn’t surprised by his teammate’s late-game heroics.
“Mason is an outstanding basketball player,” he said. “When you call on him at times like that, he’s always ready to stand up. That’s what we expect; that’s who he is.”
In the McNamara game, the Stags led 41-27 early in the third quarter and by eight just inside the fourth. The Mustangs tied it with a 10-2 run and scored seven of the final nine points to win. In the Gonzaga victory, DeMatha showed that it learned a valuable lesson.
“We watched a lot of film, understanding our mistakes, staying together and just willing ourselves to win,” Winston said. “We knew we couldn’t do the same things we did [against McNamara].”
Thomas was pleased to get a much-welcome victory: “We’ve been in a slump the past few games. It feels great to get a win.”
Check out these highlights, courtesy of Capitol Hoops.
Reserve plays key role
J.J. Massaquoi played 17 minutes off the bench against the Eagles and had four points and six rebounds. Defensively, the 6-foot-6 sophomore forward took three charges.
“We tell all our guys, ‘whether you play two minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes, find a way to impact the game,’” Jones said. “And nine times out of 10, that’s going to be on the defensive end – rebounding the ball, taking charges.
“J.J. had a big night for us. He took those charges and had some key rebounds down the stretch.”
Upcoming games – The Stags play at The Heights on Friday Feb. 10, followed by home games against St. Mary’s Ryken (Feb. 13) and Good Counsel (Feb. 14). All are key league games to determine where DeMatha (6-4 WCAC) will be seeded for the conference tournament.
“I’m happy with our trajectory moving forward,” Jones said. “When you can see the ball go in, and defend at a high level, which we did [tonight], I think it gives guys the confidence to play better.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisMcManes1.