The $3 tickets for Tuesday night’s main event, a girls’ basketball game that had been anticipated for months, sold out quickly, but a line of hopeful fans still filled the hallway adjacent to the gym at Bishop McNamara High.
Eventually they were told they could go to the school’s cafeteria, where a live stream of the game would be shown. Many of them did just that.
The game, matching No. 1 McNamara and No. 2 St. John’s, proved to be a spectacle worthy of the hype as the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference foes provided action, drama and heartbreak. In the end, it was St. John’s, which has won the past two conference titles but was taking a rare turn as the underdog, that emerged with a 67-65 overtime win.
“It was one of the coolest atmospheres I’ve ever been in,” St. John’s sophomore guard Azzi Fudd said. “It made us want to show them something.”
The Cadets slipped from the No. 1 spot in many national and local polls last month after a loss at the Nike Tournament of Champions. The surging Mustangs (18-1) replaced them at the top, but St. John’s has been unstoppable since, beating opponents by an average of 21.8 points.
The Cadets’ entrance to the gym was met with a chorus of boos from the Mustangs’ student section, and the atmosphere never settled from there. But St. John’s (20-1) has played in No. 1-vs.-No. 2 games before, most notably against Paul VI last year. That experience showed as the Mustangs used a late surge to force overtime. St. John’s looked calm and comfortable in the extra period, scoring the game’s final five points.
“We knew it would be crazy, and we’ve been in a hundred of these,” St. John’s Coach Jonathan Scribner said. “This might be their first one. We were ready to play, and we had a lot of confidence going down the stretch that we’d find a way to make the right plays and they wouldn’t.”
Fudd, who spent the game struggling with her midrange jumper, was on target when it mattered. She scored the final four points of regulation and then added six straight in the final two minutes of overtime to help St. John’s secure a momentous road victory.
“We’re all so used to her shooting at such a torrid pace that obviously it seemed a bit unusual,” Scribner said. “But, boy, does she come up big when you really need them.”
Fudd finished with 18 points, well shy of her season average of 27. Senior forward Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo led the Cadets with 20.
Aliyah Matharu had 29 points for McNamara, but the Cadets’ poise and Fudd’s shooting downed the Mustangs’ hopes for a landmark victory. The result sent both crowds — the one in the gym and the one in the cafeteria — home anticipating the Feb. 9 rematch.