Nationally ranked DeMatha takes 7-0 record to Oregon
BY CHRIS MCMANES — Members of the DeMatha Catholic basketball team joked around after their 66-53 victory over Wise High School that senior Nate Darling didn’t play in the first half. That’s what a zero point, one-shot performance will do.
That all changed in the third quarter with DeMatha clinging to a 25-21 halftime lead.
Darling opened the scoring with a short turnaround jumper before hitting a three-pointer from the left corner. He and Markelle Fultz then traded assists as each knocked a shot down from beyond the arc. Darling made a fastbreak layup and followed with a three from the top of the key. He closed the onslaught with a trey from the right corner as time expired.
The Stags entered the final period with a 51-34 lead after Darling’s 16 third-quarter points. DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said his shooting guard’s fireworks weren’t even close to the best he has seen from him.
“He’s played way better than that; he’s shot way better than that,” Jones said. “And that’s a credit to him when [people] can see him and say, ‘Oh man, that’s the best I’ve seen him play,’ when we all know he’s played a lot better.”
The Stags, top-ranked by The Washington Post, can collectively play better although you can’t tell by their record. They improved to 7-0 on Dec. 23 with an 87-59 victory at Bishop McNamara. The team was back at practice the next day in preparation for a four games in a four day gauntlet in Oregon.
DeMatha heads to Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore., to play in the Les Schwab Invitational, which it won in 2010. The tournament features 12 teams from Oregon and four from out of state. The highest ranked team in USA Today’s Super 25 Expert Rankings is No. 5 Oak Hill Academy. The Stags are ranked sixth.
DeMatha opens play against Westview High of Portland on Sunday, Dec. 27. The Stags will meet the winner of the Southridge-Lake Oswego game the next day.
On Jan. 2, DeMatha will face No. 1 Montverde (Fla.) Academy at Wheeling (W.Va.) Jesuit University.
Darling wasn’t the only one hitting threes in the decisive third quarter against Wise. Fultz sank a pair and finished the game with 15 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. Darling said the Stags weren’t specifically looking to shoot three-pointers; they were just taking what the defense gave them.
“We were just looking for shots in the offense,” he said. “I’m a shooter, and when the other team’s in a zone like that, they put me in and I space the floor. They weren’t closing it up, so I was putting it up.”
Jones has the luxury of a deep and talented team, which he’ll need for the four games on consecutive days in the Les Schwab Invitational. A scoring explosion from Darling would also help.
“When he shoots like that, we become a much better team,” Jones said. “We’re working on it, just getting guys to really buy in to everything – all the details.”
Demand was so high to see the Stags’ win over McNamara (5-3) that about 100 people were turned away at the door. Fultz and D.J. Harvey scored 20 points apiece, and DeMatha hit 12 three-pointers in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game.
Darling added 19 points, including four treys and his first dunk in a game. Fultz had three triples and 12 assists.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” Darling said. “We’re not at the level we can be right now, but once we get to that level, we’ll be unstoppable.”
The Stags’ wins over Wise and Virginia Academy, 69-41, came in the National High School Hoops Festival, which they hosted at the Looney Convocation Center on Dec. 12 and 13.
Fultz scored 21 points against Virginia Academy. Attendees included Lorenzo Romar, his future coach at the University of Washington, and UW assistant Raphael Chillious.
DeMatha fell behind 9-4 to Wise in its first game of the tournament before closing the first quarter on a 9-0 run. In the third period, the Stags’ defensive intensity and offensive outburst gave fans a glimpse of how good they can be.
“We’re not playing our best basketball,” Darling said. “Once we get to our best, it’s going to be good fun to watch.”
Chris McManes has followed DeMatha basketball since the 1970s.