Paul VI sophomore Franklin Howard has been working hard to hone his long-distance shot this season, often putting up extra attempts after practice in an effort to craft a more reliable stroke.

But for most of Friday's Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game against St. John’s, the 6-foot-4 guard found no need for that particular skill. He routinely slashed to the hoop to get his points or beat the Cadets down the court for transition baskets.

That changed with 2 minutes 30 seconds left when Howard took a pass from senior Jamall Robinson near the top of the key. He never hesitated, draining an open three-pointer through a tap on the elbow on what turned out to be a back-breaking four-point play in Paul VI’s 70-54 victory. That sequence sparked a run of 10 straight points to close the game as the Panthers pulled away to hand the Cadets their most lopsided defeat of the season.

“A shooting guard, you’ve got to be able to shoot,” said Howard, who finished with a game-high 17 points and five assists. “It’s the name of the position. I was kind of struggling in the beginning of the year with my three-pointers. . . . I’m really glad they’re starting to fall for me.”

Howard set the tone for Paul VI (21-6, 13-4 WCAC) on a night they welcomed back about 30 alumni, including last year’s All-Met Player of the Year Patrick Holloway. The Gonzaga transfer shot 6 for 8 from the floor, using his speed and size to earn high-percentage chances.

St. John’s (18-9, 11-7) stayed within two possessions most of the game and trailed 60-54 when Howard stepped outside to swish his 16th three-pointer of the season and then added the free throw for good measure. The Panthers piled on with a pair of steals that led to easy baskets in quick succession a minute later, including one from Howard.

“He’s fit his way into how we play,” Paul VI Coach Glenn Farello said of Howard. “He’s done a really good job of adjusting and playing within the system and understanding what I want from him.”

Sophomore Marcus Derrickson scored 12 points for the Panthers and junior Quadree Smith added nine points and nine rebounds.

Meantime, St. John’s wilted under the pressure in the closing minutes, falling for the third time in five games. The Cadets dropped the first meeting between the teams, 55-53, on Smith’s putback in the final seconds, and this time they couldn’t keep up late, scoring just six points in the final quarter with none in the final 3:19.

“We’re going into the playoffs limping,” said St. John’s Coach Sean McAloon, whose squad dropped to 0-6 against the top three teams in the conference standings. “As a staff, we’re going to have to figure out a way to get them out of it, have some fun again. We have to kind of get back to who we are.”