Joe Gallagher, who always looks like he stepped out of Gentleman's Quarterly, stopped screaming at his players, slumped back in his chair and stared at the ceiling.

St. John's was suffering through one of its worst-ever beatings on the basketball court but, after 38 years of coaching, Gallagher had obviously decided he wasn't going to be upset about it.

"Dobbins Tech was a fine team," said Gallagher, thinking back to that 93-49 disaster in December.

"It was a combinations of things . . . We shot bad and everything just fell apart on us. I wasn't worried it would affect our season, because we had good scrimmages and I thought we'd do fine."

Like Gallagher, his players have tried to forget that evening.

"That Dobbins Tech game was our low point of the season thus far and we've tried to forget about it," said 6-foot-4 senior Michael Tate, a cocaptain and the Cadets' leading scorer (16.0) and rebounder (6.0). "Our high point hasn't come yet."

The Cadets' high point almost came recently against top-ranked DeMatha. St. John's fell behind early but rallied in the final minutes before DeMatha won, 59-56.

St. John's was right in the games with Northwestern and All Saints before losing in the second half.

The Cadets, 11-4 going into this week, have three straight Metro Conference victories to remain a game behind DeMatha. They have enjoyed this success without a notable big man in the middle.

"Since we don't have a big man, our offense is geared to get it inside when we're evenly matched, or take the high-percentage jump shots near the basket," Gallagher said. "Fortunately, our 'big' men can hit from outside and they have done a good job for us."

Tate is a key performer. The left-handed senior is fast, shoots well from outside and jumps well. He is especially effective because he can take his defender outside and score.

"Tate is a really top-grade player," Gallagher said. "We ask him to do lot of things for us and he's come though. He's much improved from last year."

Tate's supporting cast has also exceeded expectations. Point guard Moe Jordan (averaging eight assists, nine points), insists he weighs all of 133 pounds, but he is quick and gets the ball to the right people. Wing players Bobby Jones (10.0) and David Crittenden (11.0) shoot consistently well and are good defenders. Charles Olyinka, the only junior among the starters, does a good job inside.

"We've played together a long time, so we're actually experienced in a way," Jordan said. "We played together as freshmen, on the jayvee and now on varsity. We've been together long enough to know each other's moves. We've won some games and we're gaining confidence and getting stronger as we go along."

Said Tate: "We had a team meeting at the beginning of the season and vowed to always give all we could and help one another when it got tight. We know at any time, any one of us can do the job.

"A lot of us are playing out of position so we have to exploit what advantages we have. Quickness is one of those and, so far, that has worked for us. We don't know how many games we'll win, but we plan to do the best we can each game."

The Cadets rely on a run-and-shoot offense, Nevada-Las Vegas style, and a pressing defense. "We love to press," Jordan said. "We use a lot of variations and all have worked."

"We gotten a good, balanced scoring attack from our starters," Gallagher said. "We know we have to play excellent defense because we are small. If we can keep our opponents in the 50s, we feel we have a good shot at winning."

In four of the last five games, St. John's did that. Only Calvert Hall passed the 50s, but the Cadets won, 69-62.

St. John's played good defense in beating ranked teams Gonzaga (61-58), Good Counsel (69-56) and McNamara (66-56).

Right now, Gallagher and his team are concerned about the depth problem. The starters are playing virtually all the time because the team's reserves are so inexperienced Gallagher hesitates to use them.

"I don't like using an Iron Five but right now, we're searching for some help," Gallagher said.

"Fatigue might hurt us some but we're prepared for playing full time," Jordan said. "We're in good condition and as long as we keep our heads, we won't lose too many. I know no one is taking us lightly."