GREENBELT – Despite an 18-0 first-half run entering halftime with a 20-point lead, the DeMatha Catholic High School boys basketball team battled through a rallying Eleanor Roosevelt squad, supported by its hostile home environment, to win 83-75 on Dec. 13.
Following the Dec. 9 win over Roman Catholic, Head Coach Mike Jones demanded a stronger defensive performance from his Stags team. Their first half play against Roosevelt was flawless defensively as the home side could only muster 12 points in the first quarter.
DeMatha (5-1) forced the Raiders to shoot uncomfortable midrange shots, limiting their paint presence and forced seven turnovers. Meanwhile, their offense could not be stopped, scoring 16 unanswered points to end the first quarter.
Battling against a raucous Roosevelt crowd, shooting guard Justin Moore ignored the taunts and drove to the basket several times for 12 of his team-high 23 points in the opening quarter. With less than 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Moore collected a rebound and led a fast break down the court for the right-handed layup.
“We knew that they were going to bring in their crowd and have behind them, but we wanted to bring in the first punch,” Moore said. “We wanted to come out with the most intensity and attack them first and that is what we did.”
“He’s never not under control; He’s pretty amazing when it comes that and no matter what happens, he is always under control,” Jones said on Moore’s emotions on the court. “People try to get under his skin, but he’s been doing this for too long and doesn’t get rattled at all.”
The lead continued to expand into the second quarter as other DeMatha players got into the game.Guard Elijah Hawkins threw a no-look pass down below the rim after drawing two Raider defenders to a wide-open Paul Smith for the two-handed slam dunk.
To cap off the successful half, senior Carsten Kogelnik hit his second of three shots from beyond the arch in the game with less than three seconds remaining to give DeMatha a healthy 48-28 lead into halftime.
As the Raiders (2-1) struggled to find a scoring rhythm for large portions of the game, guard Isaiah Gross exploded offensively, finishing with a game-high 35-points.
Listed as a six-foot-three senior, Gross physically attacked the rim, battling with DeMatha’s seven-foot-one center Hunter Dickinson for rebounds and attempted shots at the rim. He shouldered the majority of the scoring in the opening half, with 16 points.
“Our game plan was to be the hungriest team on the court and making our presence known and not backing down from anybody,” Gross said. “We executed our game plan well, and I am proud of my teammates.”
Gross’ play jumpstarted two separate 8-0 runs for Roosevelt to bring down DeMatha’s lead back to the single digits in the third quarter. During one sequence, the senior attempted to drive through the paint but decided to step back to shoot a jumper.
DeMatha point guard Jamir Young slapped Gross’s wrist for the foul, but the shot was converted, setting up a three-point play.
However, DeMatha was able to regain its composure to maintain their advantage. With 3:26 left in the game, point guard Earl Timberlake Jr. shot a thunderous three-pointer to silence the boisterous home crowd and put their lead back into the double-digits. The junior was one of four Stag players to score into the double-digits, finishing with 12 points.
Roosevelt attempted one more flurry of shots towards the end as guard Jaamir Butler added four of his 14 points during the final push. Yet, DeMatha withstood the Raiders’ pressure for the 11-point win despite losing their 20-point advantage.
“I just think our focus went away,” Jones said. “We had a 20-point lead, and we relaxed, and Roosevelt is not a team you want to relax against especially with the energy that they play with already and that they get from their crowd, they are not going to stop. They are competitive and we lost focus and did not do those things we were doing in the first half.”
For Roosevelt, the loss was heartbreaking but excellent experience needed to carry over for the rest of the season, Head Coach Brendan O’Connell said. Small lessons like converting shots and not allowing large runs will be fixed as aspirations are high for the Raiders to top last year’s regional finals run.
“(This) was a great test,” Gross said. “We could have folded, but I don’t think we did. I think we responded really well and my teammates and I are really good team…We are not looking forward to one team; we have to take it one game at a time and every team is an opponent in our way to our goals and we cannot take them from granted.”