For the second time this season Good Counsel faced DeMatha after a confidence-boosting upset of St. John's in its previous Metro Conference game.
And although the 17th-ranked Falcons gave a much better account of themselves this time against No. 1 DeMatha, they still were left painfully disappointed as DeMatha was able to hold on for a 58-57 victory yesterday at DeMatha.
Good Counsel (15-4, 1-1 in the second half of conference play) was nearly blown out in the opening minutes of the second half, falling behind by as many as 10, but the Falcons refused to fold. With five seconds remaining, their comeback put them in position to upset the undefeated Stags (20-0, 3-0 in the second half).
Kurt Small (game-high 19 points) took the inbounds pass and was able to collect himself for a jumper despite DeMatha's Duane Simpkins and Kevin Young jumping out at him.
The ball hung tantalizingly on the rim before falling away as time expired. Small watched the ball slip off while sprawled on the floor in agony.
The ball "thought about going in," said DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten. "But for some reason, I didn't think it was there.
"Our kids have got to understand that every team is going to give us their best shot and if we're not ready for their best shot . . . that's what's going to happen. Good Counsel's a fine team and they gave us their best shot right here in our home gym."
There was certainly little more Good Counsel Coach Joe McCall could have asked from his team.
The Falcons dissected the Stags' pressure defense, remained unfazed in the face of DeMatha's spirit-breaking runs and were as close as anybody has been to beating the Stags this season.
"We played excellent defense," said McCall. "Stuck to the game plan, didn't get rattled when they came back and took that lead and held our composure. We just wanted a chance to win it at the end and we certainly had plenty of those."
Small's desperation shot was set up by a gallant Good Counsel run that took the Falcons from a 56-50 deficit to a 57-56 lead on two free throws by Nii Nelson-Richards (17 points).
But Simpkins (12 points), who has proven to be unflappable under pressure, sliced down the lane for a layin with 21 seconds remaining to put the Stags up, 58-57.
DeMatha forced a turnover on Good Counsel's ensuing possession with six seconds remaining and looked to have the game in hand. But Simpkins tripped and Young's inbounds pass went out of bounds under DeMatha's basket.
DeMatha's Ted Ellis (team-high 14 points) tipped out the Falcons' first inbounds pass to set up the Falcons' final opportunity.
Good Counsel led for the majority of the first half, by as many as seven points, but led by only 28-26 at halftime.
DeMatha opened the second half with a 14-2 burst and established a 40-30 lead it spent the remainder of the game trying to protect.