They lumbered down the dark stairwell one by one, chins tucked to the chest of their DeMatha hoodies, eyes bloodshot.
Some wore headphones, others exchanged polite handshakes before exiting across the floor where, minutes earlier, they experienced heartbreak.
Behind a set of double doors adjacent to this unhappy procession, Paul VI Catholic’s players and coaches granted interviews to packs of media members and shook hands with throngs of jubilant friends and family.
If this truly signaled a changing of the guard in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, Patrick Holloway and his Panthers teammates picked a theatrical way to do it.
Holloway, who will play for George Mason University next season, hit a game-winning 3-pointer with no time remaining, sending Paul VI’s boisterous standing-room-only crowd of 1,300 into a previously-unmatched level of elation as they stormed their home court late Friday night following a 64-62 victory.
“DeMatha’s tough. Whenever you play them, nothing’s guaranteed,” Holloway said. “It’s a big deal for us. It feels good. It really does.”
Holloway’s shot secured Paul VI’s first victory against DeMatha since Jan. 27, 2008. The Panthers improved to 18-2 overall and 10-0 in the WCAC, while the Stags dropped to 17-3, 8-2.
“I could give you coach speak, but it really is a huge win because I have so much respect for coach [Mike] Jones at DeMatha and what he has done there,” said Paul VI coach Glenn Farello. “It’s a tremendous win. We’ve been building to get to this point and it’s very sweet to have it happen.”
Leading 62-61 with 25.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, DeMatha forward Jerami Grant (17 points) missed the front end of a 1-and-1, setting the stage for the Panthers’ dramatic final possession.
With six seconds to play, Paul VI guard Stan Robinson (19 points) drove from the wing toward the basket and threw up a wild circus shot. The rebound fell to a pack of four players, including DeMatha guard James Robinson (11 points), and the ball was tipped to Paul VI point guard Tilman Dunbar. Instead of shooting with roughly two seconds on the clock, Dunvar dished to Holloway at the top of the key. The ball left Holloway’s hands with 0.2 seconds remaining and fell through the net after the buzzer sounded. Holloway (20 points) then sprinted toward the backcourt with his right index finger raised skyward as a crowd of spectators enveloped him.
“I think for the environment we just played in, to be able to be right there, you’re one rebound away from a win, I’ll take that,” Jones said. “I think nine of 10 times we make the play and grab that rebound.”
DeMatha, the three-time defending WCAC champion, finds itself in an unusual position after losing to Gonzaga and Paul VI in consecutive weeks: third place. Gonzaga is No. 4 in USA Today’s latest Super 25 national rankings, while Paul VI is No. 18. DeMatha, which is accustomed to seeing itself on such lists, is unranked.
“We need to stick together as a team through the losses and wins,” said Stags’ guard Marcellous Bell. “We need to get to the point where we’re together no matter what and not let anybody come in our family circle.”
Despite playing a majority of the third quarter without Grant or 6-foot-9 center BeeJay Anya, the Stags were able to maintain a lead with an undersized lineup by knocking down three 3-pointers, two by Bell.
The lead changed hands nine times in the final eight minutes, including an athletic rebound and put-back dunk by DeMatha’s Kelvin Howard to make it 62-61 with 1:38 to play.
“We definitely wanted to maintain the lead and try to step on them even more,” Bell said. “Not let anything back. They’re a very good team. We tried to execute until the end.”
DeMatha played without starting shooting guard Jarius Lyles, who Jones said was sick. Lyles warmed up prior to the game, but then alerted DeMatha’s trainers as to his status.
“The decision was made for him not to go,” Jones said. “Obviously we missed him.”
The game was crisply played, with neither team leading by more than seven points, which, perhaps, makes the loss even more unpalatable for the Stags. Still, Jones doesn’t seem concerned about DeMatha’s ability to recover from two difficult defeats.
“I am not, in any way shape or form, worried about whether my team has a hangover from this or not,” Jones said. “We have some big games coming up and a chance to get things right with the world.”
A world that, on Friday at least, was sufficiently rocked by the Panthers.
Paul VI 64, DeMatha 62
DeMatha 17 15 16 14 — 62
Paul VI 15 16 14 19 — 64
DeMatha (17-3, 8-2): Jerami Grant 17, Marcellous Bell 13, BeeJay Anya 11, James Robinson 11, Kameron Taylor 6, Kelvin Howard 4
Paul VI (18-2, 10-0): Patrick Holloway 20, Stan Robinson 19, Marcus Derrickson 12, Tilman Dunbar 4, Jamall Robinson 4, Kevin Dorsey 2, Coleman Johnson 2, Quadree Smith 1