WCAC boys: DeMatha outduels Gonzaga to wear league crown for third straight year
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 12:07 AM
Gathering along the baseline, the DeMatha Stags were in a familiar position, mugging for the cameras and trying to strike just the right pose (which three fingers should be extended?) to celebrate their third consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title.
In an up-and-down season, fifth-ranked DeMatha's victory did not come easy. But behind a career-high 17 points from junior forward Jerami Grant, the Stags made just enough plays to withstand a furious rally and hold off sixth-ranked Gonzaga, 51-48, before a near-capacity crowd of 3,000 at American University's Bender Arena on Monday night.
"Six out of seven ain't bad," DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. "A lot of people seemed like they forgot."
The Stags (25-7) will try for its third straight City Title on Monday, when it plays D.C. public school champion Theodore Roosevelt (25-5) at Verizon Center.
While DeMatha led for most of the game, there was a brief moment when it appeared Gonzaga's comeback would be the story of the night. The Eagles played nearly the entire game without leading scorer Kris Jenkins, a sophomore forward averaging 14.2 points per game.
Jenkins sprained his left ankle late in the Eagles' semifinal victory over 20th-ranked McNamara on Sunday and clearly was in discomfort on Monday night. He briefly tried to warm up before retreating to the bench during pregame warmups. With Gonzaga trailing 27-17 at halftime, Jenkins started the second half but after hobbling around the court for 97 seconds, Eagles Coach Steve Turner brought Jenkins back to the bench.
DeMatha eventually pushed its lead to 37-21 on a fast-break dunk by Grant before Gonzaga began to cut into its deficit as sophomore point guard Nate Britt (16 points) led the way.
It was 43-35 after three quarters and the Eagles eventually pulled to 45-43 on a putback by center Ben Dickinson midway through the period.
"I was hoping we didn't put ourself in a position we couldn't get out of," Jones said. "They had all the momentum. Big ups to Kris Jenkins for trying to play. That was unbelievable."
The Stags, though, responded as Jairus Lyles scored on a drive down the lane. Then after Grant was fouled while trying to dunk, he went to the bench with leg cramps and freshman guard Johnnie Shuler came in to make the pair of free throws.
Trailing 51-48 in the final seconds, Gonzaga had chances to force overtime but missed two contested three-point shots.
"We knew Gonzaga was going to have a big run and we had to withstand their punch," said DeMatha forward Mikael Hopkins, who had eight points and eight rebounds. "We didn't think it was going to be easy at all. One thing, when we get to the championship, we win."