Not Paul VI. Not a single player on the Panthers’ roster had experienced a three-game losing streak at the varsity level. The last time the program had a three-game skid was January 2016. And the last time it had lost four straight? Five years before that, in January 2011.
On Thursday night, the Panthers played with an urgent physicality and rode the momentum of a capacity home crowd in Fairfax City to lead for most of the evening in a 62-54 win.
“We started the season strong, and then we just hit a hole basically,” junior guard Trevor Keels said. “But we just kept our heads up. We’re lucky it’s happening right now and not [in the postseason].”
Games between the Eagles (10-4, 4-2 WCAC) and the Panthers (8-3, 5-1) are always fierce; the programs are often jostling for conference supremacy, and the key players know each other well. But Paul VI displayed fight of a different kind Thursday, a near-manic effort driven by the desire to protect their home court and get back into the win column.
The referees allowed physicality early as the two teams pounded away at each other beneath the basket. The speedy Panthers, led by senior Jeremy Roach with 18 points, did their best to contain Eagles forward Terrance Williams down low and turned every Gonzaga miss into a transition look.
“I was proud to see the fight,” Coach Glenn Farello said. “We’re in a bit of a shooting slump, but that will go away; we saw how we could play in December. But to keep fighting through every possession, fighting for a rebound, fighting defensively — that’s what I appreciated today.”
Gonzaga made its move in the third as it chipped away at Paul VI’s 12-point halftime lead. The Eagles took a 41-40 lead late in the quarter, but Keels responded immediately by muscling through the lane for a bucket and the foul. Their lead quickly and defiantly restored, the Panthers did not trail again.
“Tonight was new for some of our guys,” sophomore Dug McDaniel said. “But we live for moments like this; we’re PVI. This is what we’re all about.”