With St. John’s in the midst of a run and the Cadets’ zone defense against a bigger McNamara team generating results during the second quarter of Friday’s matchup, there was no need for Anthony Cowan to stray from the script.
But as the home crowd’s cheers reached new decibels following a Jeff Dowtin corner three-pointer, Cowan decided to ride the momentum and take a gamble.
As a McNamara guard dribbled across half court, Cowan broke from his defensive position and surged out to the perimeter, harassing the opponent with waving arms and constant yelling. Sensing an opening, the Maryland commit poked the ball loose and took it the other way for a two-handed dunk that capped a 16-2 run and propelled the No. 7 Cadets to a 68-49 win against the No. 12 Mustangs in Northwest.
“Jeff’s three really got me going, so I thought I’d try that one time to get out on them and catch them off guard on defense,” said Cowan, who finished with 16 points. “Thankfully it worked. We just came out with a lot of intensity tonight.”
Much of the Cadets’ motivation was fueled by the teams’ previous meeting. On that Jan. 7 night, St. John’s got 32 points from Cowan but not much else and the Mustangs (17-8, 10-6) rode a more balanced attack to a narrow victory.
The outcome was what many envisioned for this season’s Cadets (19-6, 11-4 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference), with Cowan the only returning player from last year’s rotation. But after dropping its first two games, St. John’s showcased much more talent around Cowan during an 11-game winning streak, from the sharpshooting Dowtin to the undersize rebounding machine Kylia Sykes.
Friday brought a return to the Cadets’ concerted effort as they turned a one-point game after the first quarter into a convincing rout of a strong WCAC foe. After a long Cowan three-pointer, Kris Saulny scored on a putback and Dowtin drained two long jumpers to set up Cowan’s steal and breakaway dunk during a 16-2 second quarter run.
Then Sykes slammed home an offensive rebound to ignite another 16-2 run in the third period that pushed the Cadets’ lead to 25 and helped them overcome an offensive outburst from McNamara’s Jamir Moultrie (15 points).
“Everything started on defense for us,” said the 6-foot-5 Sykes, who finished with nine points. “I’m only as big as I can get, so I’ve got to play with a lot of heart and energy against bigger guys like this and get after it. I can’t wait for the ball to come to me.”
Sykes got his share of touches thanks to the Cadets’ sound ball movement in half-court sets and transition. All five starters finished with at least eight points, led by 21 from Dowtin, who punctuated his final bucket with a two-handed jam in the fourth quarter of the Cadets’ fourth win in five games.
“I know a lot of teams will first key in on Anthony, so that opens things up for me,” Dowtin said. “Last time we played them, we weren’t having fun, so we just took this one personal and played for ourselves, as a team.”