Boys’ basketball: James Palmer leads balanced St. John’s past O’Connell

As one of five St. John’s starters with a Division I scholarship, James Palmer knows the third-ranked Cadets don’t necessarily have a first option. So with the ball swinging around the perimeter in the final minute of double overtime in Sunday’s game at No. 4 O’Connell, Palmer quietly floated to his sweet spot on the right side of the floor, hoping that his defender’s attention would be diverted by his teammates just long enough for him to attack.

Once the ball reached his proximity and he saw an opening, Palmer’s deference turned to confidence, calling for the pass before launching a three-point attempt that drained through the net and ultimately lifted the Cadets to an 82-80 win in Arlington.

“As brothers and teammates, we’ve jelled a lot this year,” the Miami recruit said. “We just kept moving the ball, and I yelled ‘one more’ for them to swing it to me, and I saw I had a good look.”

The Cadets (15-1, 5-1 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) ended up counting on Palmer, who finished with 24 points, for a number of big plays during a fourth quarter and two overtime periods in which they often trailed.

After Palmer’s second of three three-pointers gave St. John’s its biggest lead at 58-50 midway through the fourth quarter, O’Connell stormed back behind two Melo Trimble threes to tie the score at 62 and send the game to overtime.

The Knights (11-7, 9-1) carried the momentum into the first extra period, putting together a 9-3 run to take a five-point lead. But St. John’s kept its composure and tied the score on a Tre Campbell three that was followed by a Palmer steal and bucket by Campbell on the ensuing inbounds play.

“That was a big play by James, and we all came up with some big shots,” said Campbell, who finished with 10 points. “We never thought we would lose this game even though we were down.”

Still, with five seconds left and Trimble driving into the lane, the odds appeared against St. John’s escaping with a victory. But as Trimble put up a floater, the long-armed Palmer swatted the ball away, forcing a second overtime.

The Knights again surged out front, thanks to the play of Trimble (26 points) and Oumar Barry, who used his size advantage to score a career-high 20 points, including a dunk that put O’Connell up 80-76 with about a minute remaining.

But the game again swung back into the Cadets’ favor on a late Trimble drive, this time with the Maryland recruit picking up his fifth foul on a charge drawn by Darian Bryant. Without their top scorer, the Knights went scoreless from there while Palmer’s decisive three-pointer and three Anthony Cowan free throws sealed the Cadets’ 13th straight win.

“This is a type of game we would have lost last year for sure,” Cadets Coach Sean McAloon said. “But the guys have learned to really trust each other in moments and games like this.”

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