FORESTVILLE – In a league as competitive as the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), experience can often be the difference between winning or losing a tight game.
Bishop McNamara High School has done well in close games this year despite losing 10 seniors from last year’s team but still showed its youth on Jan. 24 against Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. The Mustangs led for much of the contest, but the Falcons persevered late to escape with a 57-54 victory.
“They played hard, just didn’t play smart,” said Bishop McNamara Head Coach Keith Veney. “Some plays they could’ve made down the stretch, but they didn’t, we just let this one slip away.”
Though Bishop McNamara (10-8, 5-8 WCAC) is 6-3 in games decided by 10 points or less, three of those wins came over winter break outside of league play. Trying to close out games in the WCAC is a different animal. Good Counsel (14-6, 8-3) certainly took some lumps last year during a 9-23 campaign, but the Falcons lost just one senior from that team, and it showed down the stretch.
“These are games a good number of our guys have been in before,” Head Coach GJ Kissal said. “I really think it comes down to we’re better physically and more prepared mentally to whether those storms.”
The Mustangs led 41-34 with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter, but the Falcons got a big second-chance three-pointer from Antoine Jacks to cut the lead to 41-37 heading into the final frame.
After McNamara’s Edward Johnson answered a Bezaleel Mbeng layup with a 3-pointer, the Falcons went on a 13-3 run that gave them the lead for good. Jacks made two huge plays to finish off the run, hitting a 3-pointer to give Good Counsel a 49-47 lead, then finishing through traffic and hitting the free throw for a three-point play.
The junior guard scored a game-high 18 points as part of a balanced effort for Good Counsel. Senior guard Montell Cooper finished with 10 points, Mbeng finished with nine, and Jalen Curtis finished with eight. Jacks and Cooper were also pests on defense, pressuring the Mustangs ball handlers and making their lives difficult in a half-court offense.
That allowed Good Counsel to get easy baskets in the second game of a back-to-back, as the Falcons lost at St. John’s College High School the night before.
“Our guards, when they defend the way they did tonight in stretches, it really changes the complexion of the game,” Kissal said.
The Falcons answered every punch from the Mustangs, who still had one possession to send it to overtime after Jacks only hit one of two free throws. Trailing 57-54 with 8.2 seconds left, McNamara freshman guard Jaden Johnson couldn’t get a shot, as Jacks deflected the ball out of bounds with 1.8 seconds.
In the ensuing frenzy, the Mustangs missed a jumper to seal the Good Counsel victory.
Despite the loss, Veney was still pleased with parts of his team’s performance. Favour Aire was much better in this game than the 69-57 loss to Good Counsel on Dec. 10, scoring 12 points despite battling through foul trouble. Junior Terrance Butler was also solid, matching Aire’s 12 points while causing matchup problems for Good Counsel’s defense.
Bishop McNamara led through three quarters but couldn’t finish the deal. It’s just another learning experience for a young team, one that has only two seniors on its roster and a bevy of underclassmen contributors. That alone bodes well for the future.
“We have a great group of young guys, so I think it’s good for them to have this experience,” Aire said. “They know how to handle (it) and play to the spotlight.”