The five-minute trip from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes to Episcopal has not been an easy one for the Saints’ boys’ basketball team. Over the past 10 seasons, the program has struggled to mark the short journey through Alexandria with a road win against the conference rival Maroon. On the two occasions the Saints did win in that span, it was by one point or in triple overtime.
On Tuesday night, the No. 10 Saints got a brief scare but ultimately bucked the trend, holding off host Episcopal for a 71-62 victory in Interstate Athletic Conference play.
“It’s a great, historic matchup,” Saints Coach Mike Jones said of the rivalry. “And this is a tough building to win in. Great atmosphere. We had to persevere here tonight.”
St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (11-2, 2-0) beat Episcopal (5-5, 0-1) by 31 points earlier in the season at the Sleepy Thompson tournament, and it looked confident throughout the first half Tuesday. The Saints were able to work the ball inside, where their size advantage led to easy points. They went into halftime up 14.
But the Maroon chipped away in the third quarter and then hung around in the fourth, cutting its deficit to 62-60 with less than two minutes left. On the next possession, junior point guard Xavier Lipscomb got to the free throw line and pushed the Saints’ lead to four. Episcopal came down the court needing a basket, but the Saints swarmed and forced an errant pass.
From there, more free throws iced it. Lipscomb finished with 20 points to lead nine Saints scorers. That depth is one aspect of this year’s team that has players and coaches excited.
“We’re a very deep team,” senior Charles Thompson said. “The starters can go all out and use our energy in the first five minutes. But that’s okay because the next group comes in. Everybody can come in and contribute.”
Experience is another positive. The Saints returned four starters from last year’s squad, three of whom are seniors.
“We’re a veteran ballclub now,” Jones said. “Most of the guys have been through the fire. We played a difficult summer league schedule, difficult preseason schedule. So the guys are just locked and loaded, trying to accomplish our goals.”
Last year’s team was young and fell short of its goals. The Saints finished 18-10, falling to Georgetown Prep in the IAC tournament and Paul VI in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament. This year, the Saints want to take the next step.
“Our goal is to just win everything,” Lipscomb said. “IAC, VISAA — all of it.”