One of the referees just couldn't help but bring it up.
The sting of Sunday's 55-48 loss at the hands of Paul VI was still fresh for DeMatha Catholic boys' basketball coach Mike Jones, and the ref, meaning to come off sentimental though rather unsuccessfully so, poured a little salt into the wound.
“Tough third quarter, man,” he said as he passed Jones.
“Yeah,” the coach sighed in return, “Thanks for the reminder.”
The No. 1-ranked Stags had played roughly three quarters of strong basketball. The eight minute stretch following halftime, however, was not one of those quarters.
Joe Hampton, D.J. Harvey, Terrell Allen and Kellen Taylor put together an 8-0 run late in the second to send the Stags into the break up 29-24. As a team, DeMatha went 8-for-13 and flipped a seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead, the largest either team held throughout the game.
Then came the third quarter, and the Stags went as cold as the snow falling outside Morgan and Kathy Wootten Gymnasium. Wagner recruit Corey Henson missed all seven of his shots on an uncharacteristically poor shooting night while the rest of the Stags went a combined 2-for-12 from the floor.
The only player to put any points on the board was Reggie Gardner, who made a layup with 2 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the quarter — ending DeMatha's five-minute scoring drought — and a 3-pointer shortly thereafter.
Paul VI wasn't exactly lighting things up, either, shooting 4-of-13, but DeMatha's lead had disintegrated, any semblance of momentum created from the second quarter had been snuffed, and its most reliable offensive player, Henson, was an icy 1-for-12 total.
“We were unfocused,” said Hampton, who led DeMatha's scoring alongside Gardner with eight points. “We missed a lot of shots, a lot of easy shots I should say. We got guys who can score, the shots just weren't falling.”
Jones was pleased with how his young team responded to the third quarter, even retaking the lead less than two minutes into the fourth. But a Josh Reaves' 3-point shot with less than a minute remaining put the Panthers up four and DeMatha's next two trips were fruitless.
“We started the second half the way we started the first half which cost us,” Jones said. “But we fought back both times, we just didn't make enough plays down the stretch. I like the fact that we responded after not playing well or being on the same page. We responded and we fought back and we were able to take the lead back both times.”
The win marks Paul VI's 20th win of the year, its fourth consecutive season hitting that milestone, the longest active streak in the hyper-competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“That's something we're really proud of,” Panther coach Glen Farello said. “It's the best league in the country. People don't appreciate how fun it is every single night. It's like the ACC and the Big 10 — win or loss, you got another big game.”
Paul VI 55, DeMatha 48
Paul VI (20-5, 13-3) 13 11 14 17 — 55
DeMatha (21-4, 11-4) 13 16 5 14 — 48
Paul VI: Marcus Derrickson 15, Kevin Dorsey 15, Josh Reaves 9, Corey Manigault 6, Evan Taylor 6, Aaron Thompson 4.
DeMatha: Joe Hampton 8, Reggie Gardner 8, Terrell Allen 7, Corey Henson 7, D.J. Harvey 6, Alani Moore 5, Brock Ruble 3, Kellon Taylor 2, Thomas Bruce 2.