DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten estimates he has faced St. John's Coach Joe Gallagher, who is in his final season, more than 80 times.

More often than not, Wootten has prevailed. And last night their teams put on a performance at Takoma Academy that both coaches will be able to treasure as top-ranked DeMatha prevailed over ninth-ranked St. John's in overtime, 69-65.

The victory clinched the Metro Conference title for the first half of the season for the Stags as they improved to 17-0, 6-0 in the conference.

They will meet the Metro Conference's second-half champion in a playoff at the end of the season to determine who will represent the Metro in the City Title Game. The loser will play in the semifinals.

The first-half title "meant a lot," said Wootten. "Our league is so well-balanced and, by winning, it guarantees us a place in Cole {Field House}," site of the City Title Game.

To earn the berth, DeMatha had to pull out the stops.

"It was typical Dematha-St. John's," said Wootten. "Some have been prettier, some better played, but they've always been dogfights."

Neither team held more than a five-point advantage the entire game. St. John's took a 60-57 lead with 11 seconds left after two Eric Micoud free throws.

That set the stage for some game-ending heroics by DeMatha point guard Duane Simpkins (team-high 17 points).

Simpkins dribbled up court, squared up and lofted a three-point attempt from the left corner that glanced off the front of the rim, then fell through to tie the game at 60 and force overtime.

"The coach told us that after the free throws were taken, whoever had the ball take the three," said Simpkins. "I knew I would have the ball and made some in-and-out moves to get off the shot.

"The way it hit the rim, I knew it would go in. There was a nice soft touch on the rims."

Given new life, the Stags seized the opportunity and made amends for some horrible second-half free throw shooting -- they missed all five of their attempts.

Forward Chris Parsons converted two free throws and scored inside, while Simpkins made the first shot in a one-and-one as DeMatha took a 65-60 lead.

Meanwhile St. John's (15-2, 4-2) turned the ball over on its first four possessions and struggled without the services of its key big man, Warren Williams, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

But Brian Tate made a follow shot and Kevin Gibbs (19 points) hit a three-pointer with five seconds remaining, sandwiched around a pair of Simpkins free throws, to bring St. John's within 67-65.

Once again, Simpkins came through in the clutch. He converted both ends of a one-and-one to seal the victory.

"Duane's been playing real well," said Wootten. "This has been as good as he's played. He always rises to the occasion for us in big games."

"This game was right up there with the best of them," said Gallagher. "The ball took some crazy bounces for us at the end. If it bounces back, we win. If it bounces forward, they win. I'm very proud of my kids. They played tough."