Melo Trimble burst through the doors toward the locker room Tuesday night, a wide smile spreading across his face and a long, red piece of fabric in his hands. As the O’Connell junior guard got further down the hallway, he threw the thin cape around his back, revealing the yellow Superman symbol. His coaches and teammates could only laugh with approval. Indeed, Trimble had saved the day.
With the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title on the line and St. John’s giving the Knights all they could handle, Trimble made the difference, scoring 33 points to push O’Connell to a 58-53 win at American University.
“I told my teammates before the game that I was going to do something serious tonight,” Trimble said amid the celebratory postgame scrum. “I was feeling it in warmups and just tried doing whatever it took to get the win.”
Trimble was strong from the start, as the Maryland recruit drained three three-pointers en route to 13 first-quarter points. The Cadets (20-10) responded with their own proficient shooting to take an 18-17 lead. What’s more, Cadets forward Darian Bryant (16 points) established a presence inside, despite giving up four inches to O’Connell post players Leroy Butts and Junior Etou.
The Knights (25-6) took a 33-31 lead into intermission when Trimble gathered a loose ball and nailed a three-pointer before the buzzer, but Coach Joe Wootten let his players know a better second-half effort would be needed.
“Coach got in our face and said we had to rebound better and get back on defense better,” Butts said. “In the second half, we came out with the mind-set that we needed to take control.”
An 8-2 run, punctuated by Trimble’s fifth three-pointer , appeared to give the Knights the control. But the Cadets responded again, closing the third quarter with an 8-2 run to take a 44-43 lead.
With the game still in the balance, the Knights clamped down defensively, using an extended 2-3 zone to challenge the Cadet shooters and eliminate second-chance opportunities.
After falling behind by four, the Cadets rallied one final time to draw even at 53 on a James Palmer runner in the final minute. But two free throws each from Trimble and Etou along with a missed three-point try sealed the Knights’ first WCAC tournament title since 2004.
“We went 14-18 last year and to turn it around and win the championship this year makes me so proud of these guys,” Wootten said. “This is the most coachable group I’ve ever had and they stuck together to make this happen.”