DeMatha senior point guard Jahmir Young launched the ball from near midcourt, and it landed in the waiting palms of lanky 7-foot-2 center Hunter Dickinson in the paint. Dickinson took a quick step toward the hoop and rattled the rim with a strong dunk that caused the Paul VI student section to go silent. 

It was the fourth quarter of No. 1 DeMatha’s 78-57 victory over No. 2 Paul VI on Monday night in Fairfax, yet the dunk, in combination with multiple tough layups by Villanova signee Justin Moore and combo guard Earl Timberlake down the stretch, signified much more than just the finishing touch on yet another Stags win. It showed the skill, balance and pure strength of an experienced team that is aiming to defend its Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. 

DeMatha (21-2, 13-0 WCAC) returned all five starters from last season, entering the WCAC title race as clear favorites. But facing a Paul VI squad that had seemingly always found a way to win this season — from a gritty 22-point comeback victory against O’Connell to a buzzer-beating three-pointer against St. John’s — DeMatha knew it would be tested. 

Throughout the night, though, the Stags always had a response. And for Paul VI (17-5, 12-1), which had its 32-game WCAC regular season winning streak snapped, it will have to settle for a rematch Sunday in Hyattsville. 

“We are happy with the way we are playing, but we do recognize that there are things we can do better,” DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. “We are going to have to do better. We got the best of Paul VI tonight, but we play them again on Sunday and it’s going to be tough to beat them again.”

Dickinson led the Stags with 21 points Monday, while Moore contributed 19. DeMatha had full control of the game by halftime, taking a 14-point lead into the break as the Panthers struggled to keep up with the visitors’ experience and effortless ball movement.

The Panthers started to cut into DeMatha’s lead — getting it down to 10 points with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter thanks largely to the efforts of sophomore guard Trevor Keels and freshman guard Knasir “Dug” McDaniel — but they were unable to seriously threaten. Moore and Co. fought back with an 11-2 run to pull away. 

Keels finished with 23 points, while McDaniel recorded 13 points in another solid outing for a young backcourt navigating an elite conference. 

For DeMatha, while its strong result might have seemed impressive, Jones and his players still believe they have room to grow. 

“We haven’t played our best basketball yet, so that’s a good sign,” Moore said. “We still got time to pick it up. By playoff time, we will be fine.”