By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 15, 2010; D01
The buzz about this Abe Pollin City Title Game was that it was sure to be the most competitive in years. The matchup of No. 1 DeMatha against No. 2 Ballou was certainly one of the most anticipated in the 44 years of the event.
For all the buildup, the result was typical of late: The Stags beat the Knights, 80-70, before a crowd of 7,553 at Verizon Center, giving the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference its ninth boys' City Title win in 10 years.
Star guard Quinn Cook scored a game-high 28 points, forward Jerian Grant added 17 and center Mikael Hopkins 13 as DeMatha (30-3) won its fifth City Title in six years. But while the Stags added to their collection of trophies from this event, this year's game was much different than the expected victories in years past.
"We noticed them all season just like they noticed us all season," said DeMatha Coach Mike Jones, whose team beat Ballou, 55-48, in last year's City Title Game. "This was the dream matchup, one versus two. This is the way it should be.
"Let's face it, if we don't have the trash talk going back and forth, there are not as many people in here tonight. Honestly, I thought it helped the game."
With the area's No. 1 ranking also at stake, Cook said the Stags wanted to put on a show.
Indeed, Grant, Hopkins and senior forward Victor Oladipo made repeated plays above the rim, including Oladipo's alley-oop slam off an inbounds play and an impressive dunk by Grant after driving the left baseline.
Both of those plays came during a thrilling first half that saw Ballou jump out to a 7-0 lead -- capped by center Marquis Gentry's follow-up dunk -- before DeMatha punched back. By halftime, the Stags led 37-30, and they didn't trail in the second half.
"It was crazy, we came into the game expecting" an electric atmosphere, Cook said. "One thing about DeMatha, we're used to playing in front of big crowds."
Although Ballou (30-5) led early, Coach Jenkins Dormu thought some of his players had stage fright.
"I think a couple players didn't expect this atmosphere," said Dormu, whose team had not lost to a local opponent previously this season. "They weren't mentally ready for the game.
"It was two big dogs going at each other. DeMatha is a great team. They made less mistakes than we did. That's why they won the game."
"Our role players did not step up to the level we thought they would," Dormu said.
Still, the Knights stayed close most of the way, three times getting within four points, the last coming on Thomas's driving basket while being fouled that made it 57-53 with 6 1/2 minutes left. But after Thomas missed the ensuing free throw, DeMatha's key players took over.
Grant blew by the defense for a basket. Reserve guard Marcellous Bell scored on a drive and Grant went through traffic for another score.
Later, Cook scored on a drive and then in transition as the Stags restored their lead to double digits. It would grow to 14 in the fourth quarter.
Despite the WCAC's recent dominance in this event -- its average margin of victory was 31 in its previous four wins -- the Knights more than held their own.
"We definitely felt like it was a legitimate threat. The past two years have been really different, Ballou has been really good," Oladipo said. "We definitely had something to prove. We are number one in this area. We had to let everyone know we are the top dog."
Jones politely disagreed.
"What did we prove?" Jones said. "We were already ranked number one. We were the defending City Title champion. That's our fifth in six years. I don't think we had anything to prove."