There were moments down the stretch when James Robinson looked toward the bench, saw the coaches remaining calm and felt he needed to channel that composure to his teammates on the floor.
So as second-ranked DeMatha clung to a small lead in the final seconds, the ball was sure to be in Robinson’s hands. The Pittsburgh recruit drove toward the basket, drew a foul and made a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left as DeMatha held on for a 45-42 victory over third-ranked Gonzaga on Sunday night in the semifinals of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament before 3,300 at American University’s Bender Arena.
“That’s him, he’s a winner,” DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. “There is no fear in us in sending him to the free throw line.”
DeMatha (27-4) advanced to Monday’s 8:30 p.m. final against top-ranked Paul VI Catholic (28-2). In the first semifinal, the Panthers received a scare from St. John’s, but held on for a 50-49 victory when the Cadets missed a potential game-tying free throw with 1.3 seconds left.
Gonzaga (26-5) also had a late chance to force overtime. But a pair of three-pointers missed the mark, the second drawing the ire of Coach Steve Turner.
“I definitely thought there was a foul on the end,” Turner said.
Robinson, who has been ejected from the Stags’ previous game against Gonzaga after drawing two technical fouls, led all scorers with 15 points. Center BeeJay Anya added 10 as the Stags continued their quest for a fourth consecutive league championship. Paul VI has never won the WCAC title.
“Get our team in one room and get the rest of the WCAC in another room and ask the other room who has won a WCAC championship — not one hand goes up,” Jones said. “In our room, a whole lot of hands go up. We are ready to play tomorrow.”
After becoming the first team other than DeMatha to go undefeated in the league’s regular season in 50 years, Paul VI got all it could handle in the first semifinal.
Sean Beins led St. John’s (18-13) with 22 points and Allante Holston scored on a drive with 27 seconds left to make it 50-48. Holston then had a chance to be the Cadets’ hero as he was fouled vying for a rebound.
Holston made his first free throw. Paul VI then called timeout and Holston’s second attempt was short and to the left.
“I told him after that if he didn’t make plays like he did in the last minute or two, we wouldn’t be in that position,” St. John’s Coach Paul DeStefano said.