St. John's made the most of McNamara's second-quarter funk, then withstood a second-half rally to escape with an 89-80 Metro Conference boys basketball victory last night at McNamara.

The victory kept ninth-ranked St. John's (14-1, 4-1) within striking distance of conference-leading and top-ranked DeMatha. The two meet Thursday to make up a game postponed because of snow.

Warren Williams (23 points) scored 14 points in the first quarter to help St. John's take a tenuous 24-20 lead. Then the Cadets took full advantage of some woeful second-quarter shooting by the 15th-ranked Mustangs, who scored nine points in the period, to build a 52-29 halftime lead.

With eight points each in the second quarter, David Cox (11 points) and Eric Micoud (11 points) were paramount in the Cadets' second-quarter flurry.

Mike Brown led the Cadets with 24 points.

"The second quarter, that was it," said McNamara Coach Jay Somerville. "We matched up every quarter except the second quarter. They got a nice little run on us. They caught us probably flat-footed and they didn't miss. . . . St. John's is a very good team and you cannot stumble. They bury you if you stumble."

But one trademark McNamara has established early in its conference season is that regardless of the circumstances it does not relent. The Mustangs (12-5) have come painfully close to being 4-1, instead of 2-3 in the Metro Conference.

In its last two games, Tuesday against Good Counsel as well as last night, the scenario has been the same: McNamara falls behind and comes back late only to fall short. Last night, the Mustangs came as close as 87-80 after Keith Veney (12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter) hit consecutive three-pointers. Keith Robinson had 17 points to go along with 21 rebounds.

"We let it get away from us a little bit," said St. John's Coach Joe Gallagher. "I wasn't happy with them. What did it today was missed foul shots {24 of 42}. We've learned how to at least win the game."

"They play hard," said Somerville of his team. "We just don't have that caliber of consistency that we need on the court. If we can get a little more consistency we may be all right." SJ (14-1) -- Cox 11, Gibbs 12, Thomas 4, Brown 24, Williams 23, Gilliam 2, Tate 2, Micoud 11. Totals 30 24 89. M (12-5) -- Costly 13, Truesdale 9, Robinson 17, Neal 15, Veney 17, Rowe 2, Garrison 2, Atwater 2, Willis 3. Totals 31 11 80.

Halftime: St. John's, 52-29.

Three-point goals: St. John's 5 (Micoud 2, Cox 2, Williams); McNamara 7 (Veney 4, Truesdale, Neal, Costly).