For as much as they would like to forget it, the DeMatha boys’ basketball team’s most recent loss — a double-overtime defeat in last month’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final — has served as motivation for the final weeks of the season.
The third-ranked Stags entered the second Maryland Private Schools tournament at Takoma Academy in Silver Spring knowing they had loose ends to tie up. And in the final, they used that loss last month to Gonzaga as fuel for a 64-51 win over Mount Carmel.
“After we lost [the WCAC championship], that showed we had work to do and we couldn’t slack off at any point,” junior Markelle Fultz said. “We have to come focused and ready to play.”
Fultz scored a team-high 16 points to earn tournament MVP honors. He served as more of a facilitator early for the Stags, who boasted four scorers in double figures.
Thomas Bruce was the main beneficiary, as his teammates fed him the ball inside for six quick points during an 11-4 run to open the game.
“My coaches told me that the ball would be coming my way tonight, so I just wanted to be ready and take advantage of the opportunities inside,” said Bruce, who scored 14 points.
As Bruce asserted himself, DeMatha’s perimeter players began to capitalize.
Fultz spun through the defense for a lay-up that capped a personal 6-0 run, while Nate Darling knocked down three three-pointers to extend DeMatha’s lead to 44-22 at halftime.
With a hefty lead and no shot clock, the Stags (30-4) looked to slow things down.
But the Cougars rallied behind drives by Montez Mathis and several putbacks by David Erebor, closing the gap to 10, leading DeMatha Coach Mike Jones to call a timeout and challenge his team’s resolve.
His players responded with ball movement and swarming, fullcourt defense that resulted in a dunk by Bruce and two three-point plays by Fultz that sealed the title.
Grateful as they were, the Stags were relatively subdued during the postgame ceremony. While Jones credited some of that to the next day’s trip to the Alhambra Catholic Invitational as well as the previous day’s loss by No. 1 Montrose Christian — scuttling the schools’ first in-season meeting — he took pride in a state title.
“Truthfully, everyone expected Montrose to be in this game with us and that’s probably something people were looking forward to,” Jones said. “But playing for a Maryland state title is something DeMatha has never done and that’s an honor we don’t take lightly.”