One David after another hurled its stones, but with the dust of the 2011 Holiday Classic settled, Goliath stands triumphant.
Withstanding several Windward rally efforts, DeMatha Catholic won the finale of the National Division 74-64. The championship-sealing victory capped an impressive week for the nationally ranked powerhouse, on a pit stop in Southern California while venturing toward one final goal:
“Undefeated,” said Stag guard Jarius Lyles, a widespread grin on his face.
Moments of DeMatha’s cross-country trek to sunny San Diego were like a vacation. Head coach Mike Jones tweeted photos of the squad together Thursday, taking in the scenery of Coronado Bay from a boat. But ultimately, the Holiday Classic was a business trip, and no obstacle was going to upend the Stags’ brass ring of a perfect season.
Windward made a valiant effort to snap that goal before it could see 2012. The Wildcats fell behind by as many as 17 points in the second half, only to battle back within eight.
It was in that second half Lyles scored all 12 of his points.
“I had to step up and get some buckets for my team, because I knew we needed it,” he said.
Lyles was just one of several key performers in DeMatha’s championship run. A rare blend of talent, depth, and togetherness fueled the Stags’ run to the championship round, and Friday’s title game brought no deviation.
From the combined low post strength of Jerami Grant and BeeJay Anya, to the 3-point sharpshooting of Marcellus Bell, and all-around tempo control of James Robinson, the Classic’s overwhelming favorite was as good as advertised.
Grant was named the National Division’s Most Valuable Player. He was a cornerstone both offensively and defensively for DeMatha, along with partner-in-the-paint Anya. The pair scored a combined 25 points Friday, mostly on vicious dunks that tested the strength of the Torrey Pines Gym backboards.
On the opposite end, the two used their respective size to contest any and all Windward shot attempts in the paint. Anya blocked four shots on the night, and Grant three. The ability to feed off one another is a Stag strength, Grant said.
“Me and BeeJay have a lot of team chemistry, playing together for a few years both on AAU and high school teams,” he said.
Altered and swatted Wildcat attempts keyed DeMatha fast breaks, a game plan of Jones.
“Our defense creates our offense,” Lyles said.
Testing the Stag defense in the game’s early moments was perhaps the most unlikely twosome on the floor. Despite each standing just 5-foot-9, the Windward backcourt tandem of All-Tournament choice Jordan Wilson and Charles Dawson kept DeMatha from running away in the first quarter.
The two drove fearlessly to the hoop for scores while the Wildcat big men got into their rhythms.
Freshman forward Mason Shepherd had his best outing since the tournament’s opening round, scoring 12 points that included a thunderous, two-handed dunk.
And as he did all week long, Nicolas Stover established himself the go-to guy of the Wildcat offense. He finished with 18 points, contributing in each of Windward’s three big runs.
Stover nearly had the play of the tournament in the second half. He dribbled toward the rim from the right wing and took off for a dunk with Anya jumping simultaneously to defend. Anya’s swipe at the ball missed, and Stover had the height and reach to throw down a dunk that would have sent the audience into a frenzy, but the ball fired over the rim.
After the game, Stover was named to the All-Tournament team.
The runs Stover and Co. threw DeMatha’s way ensured the trophy going back to Hyattsville, Md. with the team was a hard fought one to earn. And Stag players realized that.
“At halftime, we knew they were going to come out swinging,” Robinson said. “We just tried to keep the same mentality, same composure [in the second half as the first].
“This is a great feeling,” he added. “We know coming home, there’s going to be great conference games waiting for us.”