While the Theodore Roosevelt boys’ basketball team huddled during a timeout late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s D.C. State Athletic Association semifinal against St. John’s, its leader was missing. Senior point guard Johnnie Shuler was running back and forth on the sideline, trying to relieve his aching legs of cramps, while his team strategized how it was going to survive against the powerful Cadets.
It was an odd scene. But Shuler seemed to be on a different level Sunday. He wore new socks emblazoned with Superman logos, and he seemed to thrive in the rapid-fire pace despite suffering two nosebleeds and constant cramping.
Shuler scored 19 points and Jibreel Faulkner added 22 as No. 15 Theodore Roosevelt upset No. 5 St. John’s, 84-77, at American University’s Bender Arena.
The Rough Riders (24-6) advanced to the DCSAA title game at Verizon Center on Thursday against Maret, which routed Cesar Chavez in the earlier semifinal.
“It was pretty rough. I had to fight through it and help my team win,” said Shuler, who scored 10 of his points in the second half. “We just finished off. We just proved the whole city wrong.”
St. John’s (27-4), which started five guards and looked poised to run the Rough Riders out of the gym early, made 11 of 12 shots in the first quarter and rode a 9-0 run early in the second to take a 27-18 lead. But Theodore Roosevelt, as it has done all season, responded by speeding up a game that was already at a frantic pace. The Rough Riders went on a 27-6 run after that as Shuler scored seven points in the second quarter.
Roosevelt extended its lead to 16 at one point in the third quarter, but with Shuler on the bench for stretches of the second half, St. John’s capitalized. The Cadets, who were led by James Palmer’s 20 points and 16 apiece from guards Mike Morsell and Anthony Cowan Jr., pulled within 71-69 after a Morsell layup with just more than two minutes remaining, but Shuler responded on the following possession with an up-and-under layup to push the lead back to four.
Palmer cut the lead to 78-75 with a runner with 40 seconds remaining, and that’s when Theodore Roosevelt made the play that defined its night. After getting fouled, forward Jarrell Allen missed both free throws but followed his shot and got the offensive rebound. He was fouled again and hit the ensuing free throws to seal the win.
Junior Alex Peltier had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. He also absorbed an offensive foul early in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
“I’ve been taking charges all season,” Peltier said. “There’s no reason to stop doing what you do when you have a big lead.”
Fellow junior Austin Vereen had a double-double with a game-high 13 rebounds and 17 points.
Maret used a plus-23 rebounding advantage and tough man-to-man defense to hold Cesar Chavez to 11 field goals.
“These guys buy into something bigger than themselves. They play with habits,” Maret Coach Garett O’Donnell said. “They’re doing things to help us win. Whether you’re up big or down five, you have to make sure you play the right way the entire time.”