Hibbert's Late Layup Gives DeMatha a Win Over Gonzaga in WCAC Boys' Basketball Final

A last-second layup propels DeMatha to a 62-61 victory in the WCAC Title game Thursday night at Bender Arena. Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009

As open as he seemed, as easy as it looked as he dribbled once and went up for the game-winning shot before an overflow crowd that had people crammed into every nook and corner of the arena, DeMatha forward Naji Hibbert saw exactly what was happening.

"It was a tough layup -- two seconds on the clock, three men coming at me," said Hibbert, who also had to deal with the pressure of a one-point deficit.

The play wasn't designed for Hibbert, but when teammate Jerian Grant dribbled toward the basket and found his path blocked, he saw Hibbert, who was more than ready. Hibbert's shot kissed off the backboard and through the basket for the decisive points, lifting third-ranked DeMatha to a 62-61 victory over fifth-ranked Gonzaga last night in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament championship before 4,500 at American University's Bender Arena.

It was the 13th consecutive victory for DeMatha (28-3), which won its fourth WCAC title in five years.

"We wanted the ball in [Grant's] hands, he had a great game," DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. "We were going with what was working. But the great thing about him is he is unselfish. He saw he wasn't going to be able to get to the rim. [The Eagles] were all worried about the ball, that's the bottom line. Most teams are going to do that."

It was a scintillating finish to a game that didn't disappoint the legions of alumni and fans who showed up, including the courtside tandem of legendary DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten and Georgetown Coach John Thompson III, a Gonzaga alum. The biggest lead for either team was six points, and there were 11 ties and 12 lead changes.

There were plenty of potential heroes. Ian Hummer led Gonzaga with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while junior Cedrick Lindsay's long three-pointer from the right wing gave the Eagles a 46-40 lead after three quarters. Grant's drive down the lane tied it at 56 with 2 1/2 minutes left, and neither team led by more than one point the rest of the way.

DeMatha freshman guard James Robinson made consecutive jumpers in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, each giving the Stags a one-point lead. Gonzaga responded each time. And with 9.9 seconds left, after a steal by Tyler Thornton led to a goaltending call that gave a basket to Malcolm Lemmons, the Eagles had a 61-60 lead.

The Stags called timeout and Jones drew up the play for Grant. He had keyed DeMatha to a 59-56 victory over sixth-ranked Bishop McNamara in the semifinals and made the plays again last night, with six of his 10 points and three assists in the fourth quarter. But as Grant dribbled toward the top of the key, Gonzaga's defenders rushed toward him. That left Hibbert, running in along the baseline from the right corner, wide open for the winning basket.

"That happens in practice a lot, with Jerian looking off" the defense, Hibbert said. "I was ready for it and came through at the end."

No. 3 DeMatha 62, No. 5 Gonzaga 61 Down in Front: Arena officials, to no avail, threatened to eject any students jumping up and down on the bleachers in an effort to distract the opposing team. Up Next: DeMatha will play No. 20 Ballou in the City Title game on Monday at Verizon Center. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.

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