Fourth-ranked DeMatha took a giant step toward winning the Metro Conference boys basketball championship yesterday, using a 24-12 second-half spurt to pull away from ninth-ranked Gonzaga en route to a 72-55 victory at DeMatha.

The Stags, who earlier beat Gonzaga, 75-51, are 20-3 with a 4-0 record in the second half of the league season. DeMatha, which won the first-half title with a 7-0 mark, defeated McNamara, 59-50, Tuesday night and, coupled with yesterday's triumph, is in good position to win the title outright.

The conference winner plays Interhigh League champion Coolidge (22-2) for the City Title at Cole Field House March 6.

"We have three games left {against Mackin, Good Counsel and St. John's} but we beat the toughest two this week and that puts us in good shape right now," DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten said. "Coming off the McNamara game, we were a little flat coming out. We got in early foul trouble because we didn't play good defense. But like the McNamara game, we had a good second half."

Aided by some defensive lapses and DeMatha fouls, Gonzaga (16-5, 3-2) stayed close in the first half. Perfect free throw shooting (15 of 15) enabled Gonzaga to trail by only two points, 33-31, at intermission.

A driving layup by Gonzaga guard George Leftwich (11 points) tied the game at 35. Jason Bishop (10) then sank a three pointer to put DeMatha ahead to stay.

Bishop made two free throws, Reggie Veney hit a three-pointer and Jerrod Musaf (22 points) added a three-point play as the Stags increased their lead to 46-39 with 1:43 to play in the period.

"We just started executing much better," Veney said. "We had no enthusiasm coming into the game and just didn't play well. We had a tough game at McNamara and were not ready to play today."

Mustaf, held to only six shots in the first half, made two more free throws and Bishop made another three-point play and DeMatha led, 51-41, as the period ended.

"We weren't at full strength and haven't been since December," Gonzaga Coach Dick Myers said. "{Robert} Churchill played for the first time in six weeks but David Credle was out with the flu. We've lost some tough, close games. Jacob {Morton} didn't have his best games and he needs to play well for us."

Morton had 15 points but wasn't a factor as the Stags' pressure defense and rebounding took its toll. Scoring by Mustaf and Ken Blakeney (18) helped DeMatha stretch its advantage to 14 early in the final period before the visitors rallied.