Billy Edelin stepped onto the big stage at MCI Center last night, and the DeMatha junior looked every bit ready for prime time. The 6-foot-2 guard scored a career-high 39 points and garnered most valuable player honors as the top-ranked Stags held off Holy Name of Worcester, Mass., 69-55, in the main event of the DeMatha Invitational.
MCI Center is a far cry from the close confines of DeMatha's small gym in Hyattsville, but if Edelin had trouble with the glare, it did not show in his 15-of-21 shooting performance. He was the only Stag in double figures.
"It felt great," said Edelin, who also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. "It was fun to do it in front of everybody and against a great team from out of town. I guess it was kind of like a coming-out party for me."
Holy Name Coach J.P. Ricciardi was unhappy with his team's defense.
"I didn't think we defended Edelin well," Ricciardi said. "He scored most of his points 10 feet from the basket."
As important as Edelin's play was the performance of DeMatha's defense. The Stags did not shut down Holy Name's 7-6, 300-pound center, Neil Fingleton, but, with the help of a center trio of 6-10 junior Jordan Collins, 6-8 sophomore Travis Garrison and 7-4 reserve Matt Slaninka (bound for Maryland), they were able to contain him.
The Stags (16-1) also got seven points from Robin Wentt and six each from Hekima Jackson and Garrison. Holy Name (8-3) was led by Fingleton's 21 points and six blocked shots.
One by one, the DeMatha players looked across the court at Fingleton during warmups. He was an imposing figure, but the Stags refused to be intimidated.
"He certainly passes the eyeball test," DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten said with a chuckle, referring to Fingleton. "I don't know how tall [Dallas Mavericks center] Shawn Bradley was in high school, but I would guess that kid there was the biggest high school player ever. And he's good, too."
Fingleton, who has committed to play at North Carolina next season, led Holy Name to the state final last year.
Fingleton played all 32 minutes last night, and early on proved his game is as imposing as his stature. He set the tone by scoring eight first-half points, including a backboard-shaking first-quarter dunk. By the second quarter, it appeared Fingleton would take over.
But that was before the entrance of Slaninka, who was greeted with a warm ovation from the crowd of 3,058. His mere presence disrupted Fingleton. The Stags were clinging to a 25-22 second-quarter lead when Slaninka entered. DeMatha went on an 11-4 run to end the half and stretched the lead into double figures in the third quarter.
"It was important to stop him in the second quarter," Slaninka said. "We went on a run after that. It was good going up against Neil. I played against him in the adidas camp [over the summer], and I played well. Since he is going to North Carolina, I will see him in a few years."
CAPTION: Junior guard Billy Edelin slips past 7-foot-6 Neil Fingleton during 15-for-21 shooting performance. Fingleton, who's headed to UNC, had 21 points and six blocked shots.