DeMatha rebounds after six-game winning streak ends
By Chris McManes
No. 7 DeMatha learned a valuable lesson Feb. 1: You have to keep playing hard and smart until the final horn.
The Stags gave up a late 11-point lead to then-No. 2 Paul VI (PVI) and lost in overtime, 77-74. DeMatha appeared on its way to winning until it allowed a regulation-closing 14-3 run.
“Every possession matters,” Stags senior Rodney Rice said. “We just didn’t take care of the ball late in the game, and that’s the main reason it cost us the victory.”
DeMatha bounced back Feb. 4 with a 74-59 win over St. Mary’s Ryken. Rice paced the Stags with 21 points, and fellow senior Tyrell Ward had 20 in a game they never trailed.
DeMatha improved to 13-5 and 8-3 in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“We needed that one,” Stags interim coach Pete Strickland said. “It’s good to kind of put that last one behind us. You never know how [a team] is going to come out after one that was kind of a gut punch.
“You have to turn the page, and we did. I was really impressed with where we were mentally as much as anything.”
Against PVI, Bryson Hill’s follow shot gave DeMatha a 65-54 lead with 3:24 left in the fourth quarter. The Stags then allowed five straight field goals in the paint, three by reserve forward Garrett Sundra. The Panthers sank four free throws in the final 33.3 seconds to tie it in regulation.
“We made it easy for them to get to the basket,” Rice said. “Paint touches are valuable, and we let them do that.”
In the four-minute overtime, Ward scored six straight points to put DeMatha ahead, 74-72. Dug McDaniel also scored six points in overtime, including the final four. Ward missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer to seal the Stags’ defeat.
McDaniel, a super-quick point guard who’s going to Michigan, finished with 21 points. DeShawn Harris-Smith led PVI with 22 points. The Panthers (18-3, 7-2 WCAC) are now No. 1 in the D.C. area.
Rice scored a game-high 29 points in the loss, including 15 in the third quarter. Ward chipped in 28. PVI won despite not making a 3-pointer all game.
In the win over St. Mary’s, the Stags jumped to a 7-0 lead. When sophomore A.J. Swinton nailed his third trey early in the second quarter, DeMatha was up by 19. He finished with nine points, as did sophomore Jaeden Mustaf and junior Jaden Winston.
In the first quarter, the Stags forced six turnovers. “I was impressed with the way we started, with great intensity on the defensive end,” Strickland said. “We put the past behind us, which is what you have to do.”
“After a loss,” Rice said, “we like to get back in rhythm with a win.”
Following the PVI setback, Strickland told his team what it has to do to win the WCAC Tournament. The event will either be in late February or early March.
“I believe if we clean some things up, we’ve got a chance to be the best team in the league,” he said. “We know it’s going to come down to [the tournament]. It’s all about getting to that point.”
DeMatha 64, St. John’s 56 – On Jan. 28, senior Jerrell Roberson paced the Stags with 17 points at Gallagher Gymnasium. Swinton hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16. Ward had 11 points and Rice 10.
A Virginia Tech recruit, Rice hit the biggest basket of the game with DeMatha clinging to a two-point lead. His short, driving layup found the bottom of the net as he was being fouled. He connected on the ensuing free throw to put the Stags on top 60-55 with 49.3 seconds remaining.
New Format – In an effort to make room for WCAC teams to play more nonconference foes, the league was split into two divisions this year. Schools that finished the 2019-20 regular season in an odd-numbered position (first, third, fifth, etc.) are grouped in one division. Schools that finished in an even-numbered slot make up the other division.
Teams play divisional opponents twice and the others just once. This means DeMatha is only playing top schools such as Paul VI, St. John’s and Bishop McNamara once this season.
Upcoming Contests – DeMatha travels to No. 13 Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday Feb. 8. The Knights withstood a third-quarter 17-0 run to leave the Looney Convocation Center with a 72-65 victory Jan. 12.
“They came in here and beat us, so we’re going to try to go steal one,” Rice said. “It’s going to be a tough game. We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”
The Stags return home to face Archbishop Carroll on Friday Feb. 11. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisMcManes1.