For all the buzzer-beaters and No. 1-toppling upsets that have characterized Paul VI’s season thus far, there have been just as many close contests that haven’t gone the way of this young squad. Jamall Robinson was well aware of that as the clock wound down and the score remained close during the fourth-ranked Panthers’ home contest against No. 2 O’Connell on Friday night in Fairfax.
So with a minute remaining and Paul VI clinging to a two-point lead, Robinson took it upon himself to make sure this game ended with happiness not heartbreak, driving and draining a jump shot in the lane.
The basket, along with four free throws by Marcus Derrickson, proved critical in helping Paul VI defeat O’Connell, 55-48, and hand the Knights their first loss in Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play.
“In a close game like this, you’ve got to make senior plays,” said Robinson, the Panthers’ lone senior starter. “I saw the clock was running down and we needed a score to put the game away, so I attacked the lane and got the shot.”
Nothing came easy for either team Friday. Tough defense was mixed with intensity and a few flared tempers in a game that featured three technical fouls.
O’Connell (18-4, 11-1 WCAC) jumped out to a 19-12 lead behind Melo Trimble’s seven early points. After a flurry of Panther baskets to tie the game, Knights forward Jamall Gregory soared for a powerful dunk to put O’Connell back up. But a technical foul called for hanging on the rim shifted the momentum back to Paul VI, as Franklin Howard (15 points) scored four straight points to give the Panthers a 29-26 halftime lead.
“We got stops and made it hard for Melo, which is tough to do because he’s so talented,” Panthers Coach Glenn Farello said. “I thought we showed great poise to absorb their runs and then respond back with our own runs with good execution.”
Derrickson (14 points) began to gain steam in the second half, draining several open looks from the outside to build Paul VI’s lead to 39-35 midway through the third period. But the Knights stormed back, as Leroy Butts hit several shots in the paint and Trimble (game-high 22 points) drained several floaters to help tie the game at 43 with five minutes remaining.
From there, the Panthers (16-6, 8-4) showed their poise, with Robinson’s shot in the lane and Derrickson converting four free throws in the final seconds. On the other hand, O’Connell missed three of its six free throw attempts to make for the final margin.
“I knew I had to knock my free throws down because we had lost too many close games like that before,” said Derrickson, whose team went 17 for 18 at the foul line. “This is big for our confidence and shows that if we stay poised and play defense, we can pull out big wins.”