Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
One can forget past history, the rankings and the week's practice sessions when De Matha and St. John's stroll onto the floor.
The Cadets had already defied "Morgan's Law" with two straight victories (one a nonleague win) over the Stags this season, but needed a third to snap a 10-year Metro Conference rule by De Matha.
St. John's dominated both backboards and converted 37 of 41 free throws to take home a 99-87 victory last night at De Matha.
The third-ranked Cadets are now 10-1 in the Metro Conference and 21-2 overall. A victory over McNamara Friday will give St. John's the title and the championship game at Cole Field House March 13. The fourth-ranked Stags fell to 9-2 in the league and 21-4 overall.
They beat us three times so I guess that's a good indication of who has the best team," said De Matha coach Morgan Wootten. "I guess I can learn to live without one championship after 10 years."
It was a long time coming but St. John's earned it ("I can't remember when I won a title," said St. John's coach Joe Gallagher). While Mark Pitchford (22 points) and Dennis Dempsey (14) scored from outside, Justin Ellis (25) and super sub Mike Hoyle (21) were crashing inside for second and third shots.
The Cadet Iron Five feasted on the fast tempo, hitting jump shots on the run, and jumping out to a 27-18 advantage after the opening quarter.
"It's a good feeling to make a mistake and know you're not going to get snatched," said Pitchford. "I love playing all the time."
In a futile attempt to defuse the red-hot Cadets, De Matha shuttled players. But only Paul DeVito, Derrick Whittenberg and Dutch Morley enjoyed any measure of success.
A Whittenberg jump shot from the corner pulled the Stags to 67-64, with 10 seconds left in the third period. De Matha would draw no closer.
Hoyle grabbed the fourth-quarter tap and raced in for a layup for a 71-64 lead. A foul was called on Morley and Hoyle banged in two free throws to give St. John's a 73-64 advantage.
Ellis, who gathered 18 rebounds to give the Cadets a 43-25 bulge in that department, was almost automatic at the free throw line. The 6-foot-10 senior sank 17 of 18, including eight in the final period, to keep St. John's comfortably ahead.
"The guys played superbly and Ellis was just fantastic," said Gallagher.
With six seconds remaining, Dempsey strolled to the foul line with hopes of giving St. John's 100 points. The search to find the last De Matha team to surrender that many points in a game abruptly ended when his shot banged off the front rim. Even Dempsey, the 5-10 guard with the poker face, had to smile.