Paul VI guard Brandon Slater sat in the emergency room Tuesday night, and his mind raced about the news doctors had just given him — he had broken a bone in his left hand and would miss the rest of his senior season. The Villanova commit decided to text his teammates.
In a message to all of the No. 1 Panthers, Slater kept it short: “No excuses.”
His absence, he urged, wouldn’t be a detriment as they aimed to finish the season atop the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Slater smiled as Paul VI players filed out of the locker room after Friday night’s game against No. 2 Gonzaga. The Panthers had heeded his message and won, 58-51, in Northwest D.C. to clinch a share of the WCAC regular season title.
As Paul VI tries to win at least one of its final three games to earn the outright championship and conference tournament No. 1 seed, Slater ensured he’d continue to not let his squad lament his injury.
“They know exactly what they’ve got to do when I’m not there,” Slater said. “We’re still a team that’s very hard to beat, no matter what.”
Slater’s injury happened in the final seconds of Paul VI’s overtime win over Carroll on Tuesday, one of the Panthers’ closest contests in the league. As Slater guarded a long inbounds play, a Carroll player leaned into his hand, causing it to snap backward.
Immediately, Slater knew something was wrong. And when Coach Glenn Farello met the senior and his dad at the hospital that evening, they learned the injury would keep him out for six to eight weeks.
“He’s a huge piece of what we do,” Farello said. “He’s the heart and soul of our team, and so the guys want to rally around him right now.”
That Slater had missed four games at the end of January with pneumonia and the team had continued to thrive was a boost to the Panthers’ confidence, guard Jeremy Roach said.
Though the team expected a tough test on the Eagles’ court after Paul VI managed a 67-53 win on Jan. 9 with Slater contributing a game-high 18 points, the Panthers had gone 4-0 and learned to rely more on Roach and guard Anthony Harris in his absence.
That’s what they returned to doing to force Gonzaga (22-3, 11-3 WCAC) into their first losing streak of the season on Friday night.
Roach had a game-high 21 points, with 10 coming in the fourth quarter as he drew four late fouls, while Harris paced the Panthers (24-3, 15-0) early and finished with 18 points.
With Slater on the bench as an assistant coach, a new role Farello created for him, the Panthers weathered seven lead changes in the second quarter, overcame a halftime deficit and strung together a 13-2 run through the beginning of the fourth quarter for a lead they didn’t relinquish.
“We feel like we’re in a great spot to get to the championship,” Roach said. “We want that No. 1 seed and definitely the undefeated season.”
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