The moment Nate Darling’s three-point attempt caromed off the rim midway through the fourth quarter of Friday’s game at O’Connell, a sequence that appeared both synchronized and spontaneous unfolded for DeMatha.
Stags guard Terrell Allen, who set up Darling’s long-distance try with a drive into the lane, rose up for the rebound knowing full well Darling would be open again from the outside. When Allen landed with the ball and turned toward the right wing, there was Darling, set up for a wide-open three that splashed through the net and gave top-ranked DeMatha enough cushion to hold off the No. 4 Knights, 54-48, in Arlington.
For all the new faces featured in DeMatha’s rotation, having a group that Coach Mike Jones calls “system guys” has gone a long way in helping the Stags bond during their 13-1 start.
“We have great chemistry as a team and really feed off each other,” said Darling, who finished with 12 points.
That much was evident in the first quarter, as DeMatha (13-1, 6-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) jumped out to a 12-6 lead with sound execution in their half-court sets. Backdoor cuts and dribble-drive penetration by Allen, who scored six of his 12 points in the opening period, often left the Knights (12-2, 5-2) one step behind.
A more aggressive O’Connell team came out in the second quarter as Ako Adams (11 points) attacked the lane and Lewis Djonkam (11 points, 10 rebounds) banged inside for several offensive boards to cut the deficit to one. But for every free throw opportunity created by their play, the Knights struggled to capitalize as they made only four of their 16 attempts.
Four Stags scored to spark a 9-2 run, and a suffocating full-court press helped create turnovers on the defensive end as DeMatha stretched its lead to 12 points in the third quarter.
O’Connell responded with a 6-0 run to start the fourth. But four missed three throws kept the deficit at 40-35 and opened the door for Darling. After rotating to the corner for a three, Darling, who has hit 35 three-pointers on the season, drained his fourth of the night on the pass from Allen to put DeMatha back up by 11.
Markelle Fultz kept the Stags out front — and undefeated in WCAC play — by nailing six straight free throws down the stretch and finished with a game-high 17 points.
DeMatha will host No. 13 McNamara, which knocked off No. 10 Paul VI, 71-60, on Tuesday in Hyattsville.
“They had started to come back, so I just tried to settle the team down and make some plays,” Allen said. “We all have a lot of confidence in each other, and we were all focused before the game. Getting a win like this will go a long way in helping us.”