DeMatha's Justin Moore reacts after drawing a foul on a successful drive to the basket in the second half. The Stags beats No. 5 St. John’s in Hyattsville, 78-65. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

DeMatha Coach Mike Jones entered this season with every reason to feel optimistic. After a year in which his program went 33-5 and won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, the top-ranked Stags returned all five starters and a few key bench pieces. 

Jones knew that this rare situation would create lofty expectations — and it has. DeMatha has been revered on both a local and national level, but the reality is those expectations have crashed headlong into a schedule packed with national opponents and tough WCAC foes, many of whom are also nationally ranked. How the Stags weather that schedule — especially when it comes to the postseason — will be the ultimate gauge of their success.

In a 78-65 win over No. 5 St. John’s in Hyattsville, DeMatha again looked more than up to the challenge, continuing a perfect start to conference play and extending its wining streak to 11 games.

“We’re just picking up where we left off from last year,” senior guard Justin Moore said.

While the rest of the top teams in the WCAC have spent the early part of the season jockeying for position, the Stags (15-1, 6-0 WCAC) have started smoothly despite the large target on their backs. They beat No. 4 Gonzaga, 62-58, Tuesday night and Thursday they rebounded quickly from a tight first quarter and held a comfortable lead for most of the evening. 

Moore, a Villanova commit, led a balanced scoring attack with 18 points and senior guard Jahmir Young added 17. Guard-heavy St. John’s (14-4, 7-2) couldn’t control the pace of the game and DeMatha’s size and efficiency on offense proved too much to handle. 

“We have to bring it every night,” Young said. “[St. John’s has] great scorers all over the floor so we had to lock in on defense and take every possession seriously.” 

Jones said that the start of this season has been different, especially compared to last year. Whereas they spent the early part of last season trying to figure out how good the team could be, they’ve been able to approach the first few months of this campaign with the hunger and confidence of a team that knows both where the bar is set and also how to reach it.  

 “Obviously the approach had to be somewhat different,” he said. “Instead of tiptoeing and trying to figure out where our potential was, we knew where it was. So it’s a calmer approach but it comes with a much higher level of expectation for the young men on our team. And they’ve responded.”