Top-ranked DeMatha rolls through league play, hosts Gonzaga on Wednesday
BY CHRIS MCMANES — The DeMatha basketball team, in a 17-0 run during a recent game against St. Mary’s Ryken, looked fantastic offensively, defensively and in transition. The Stags played about as well as you would expect from the No. 1 team in the Washington D.C., area.
I asked DeMatha Coach Mike Jones if he agrees.
“I hope not,” Jones said. “I would hope that we’re nowhere near peaking right now.”
On Wednesday, the Stags will host Gonzaga (14-2) in a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game at the LT (SEAL) Brendan Looney ’99 Convocation Center. DeMatha is 7-0 in the WCAC, and the Purple Eagles 6-1. The game is likely to sell out.
The Stags (16-2), who are ranked eighth in the nation by USA Today, enter the contest on a six-game winning streak. On Monday, they rallied from 10 points down with about three minutes to go in regulation to defeat No. 14 Chaminade College Prep (16-5) of St. Louis, 72-69 in overtime.
The game, played in the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. – the birthplace of basketball – was televised live on ESPNU.
DeMatha senior point guard Markelle Fultz led the way with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Junior D.J. Harvey added 13 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Kellon Taylor sent the game into overtime when he hit a runner from the right elbow as time expired in regulation.
With a little over a minute remaining in the extra session, Fultz drove toward the basket and passed to Reggie Gardner (12 points), who nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner. Gardner’s fourth trey put the Stags on top, 66-64. Nate Darling scored 11 points and sank all six of his free throws, including two for DeMatha’s final points.
Monday’s contest was the Stags seventh outside the area. They finished second in the Les Schwab Invitational in Hillsboro, Ore., in late December, losing to then-No. 5 Oak Hill Academy, 82-66, in the championship game.
Fultz averaged 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.8 steals and 2 blocks during the four-game tournament and was named MVP. On Sunday, he was named a McDonald’s All-American.
“We expect him to be the best player on the floor every time we play, no matter who’s on our team or who’s on the other team,” Jones said. “He’s supposed to perform like an All-American because that’s what he is. He did what we expected him to do. He led us, and almost led us to a championship.”
In a 74-64 victory over then-No. 14 Garfield of Seattle, Fultz nearly had a triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Ryan Allen scored 17 points (15 after the break) and Darling 16.
The Stags, trailing 54-51 heading into the fourth quarter, went on a 17-3 run to seize control with Allen scoring eight straight points. All of Darling’s points came in the first half.
The win over Garfield set up the first meeting ever between traditional basketball powers Oak Hill and DeMatha. The Stags led by four at the end of the first quarter but went into the break trailing, 40-31. A 9-0 DeMatha run tied the contest for the final time. The Warriors’ 33-year coach Steve Smith notched his 1,001st career victory. Fultz and Harvey tallied 20 points apiece.
After flying back and being home less than 18 hours, the Stags headed to Wheeling (WV) Jesuit University for a Jan. 2 game against then-No. 1. Montverde (Fla.) Academy. Playing in the Cancer Research Classic, DeMatha dropped a 74-71 decision to the Eagles.
Fultz, who has been chosen to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit, led all scorers with 31 points. Harvey added 17 points and five steals.
“I’m proud of the way of the way we played in both games,” Jones said. “We’d love another opportunity to play against those teams, and in the years to come, we’ll have those. So we’ll be a little bit more prepared next time.”
Back in the DMV
The Stags notched a tough 59-57 decision over a talented St. John’s team in Northwest Washington on Jan. 9. DeMatha fell behind by five points late before going on a 9-0 run that Allen punctuated with a 3-pointer to give the Stags a 57-53 lead.
Anthony Cowan (26 points) answered with his sixth 3-pointer to bring the Cadets within one. Darling hit two free throws and St. John’s hit one for the two-point differential at the final buzzer.
In an 85-44 victory over St. Mary’s Ryken on Jan. 12, the Stags scored 17 straight points to open the third quarter and turn their 52-32 halftime lead into a 37-point bulge. Taylor, who played on DeMatha’s WCAC champion football team, started it with a coast-to-coast rebound and driving layup.
Fultz assisted on the Stags’ next two baskets, the second after they forced a turnover from their half-court trap. Darling, a senior from Canada, then played a key role in five straight notable plays. First he found Allen for a 3-pointer and hit two of his own, one from each wing. He subsequently took a charge and assisted on a slam dunk by Harvey.
Darling finished with 18 points and Fultz 14. DeMatha’s defense after the break limited the Knights to 12 points.
“We talked about defense [at halftime] and not letting up in the second half, so it was really key,” Jones said. “They made a couple of tough shots over us in the first half, so to see us not give up many second shots, not put them on the line, and make all their offensive plays contested, I was very happy with that.”
As well as the Stags are playing – they’re alone in first place in the WCAC – Jones says they have not reached their full potential.
“We can get a lot better,” he said. “I’d be concerned if there was no more room for improvement.”