The message Mike Jones delivered to his DeMatha Catholic High School boys' basketball team in the locker room during halftime Wednesday night seemed crystalline: get the ball inside and let the big boys go to work.
And work they did. In the first 4 minutes, 20 seconds of the third quarter alone, Joe Hampton and Brock Ruble more than doubled their production from the entire first half against St. John's College High, combining for 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting to put the Stags up 40-39, a remarkable turnaround from the 33-17 deficit that once stared them down in the second quarter.
The Cadets (26-2, 16-2), USA Today's 11th-ranked team in the nation and the No. 1 seed for this weekend's Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament, never led again, eventually losing 73-52 to the host Stags (25-3, 15-3).
“When things weren't quite going our way, our heads didn't drop, we just worked that much harder,” said Ruble, who scored eight of his 15 points in the third quarter. “We got that much more unselfish and it all worked out for us. It was a great win, one of the best team wins I've ever been a part of.”
To truly appreciate the dazzling display of basketball the Stags put on in the second half, it must be put into context with the first half. For a good while, it appeared to be a recurrence of Jan. 23, when St. John's ran all over the Stags in an 81-69 win that was never really in question.
Darian Anderson buried a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers and added another two points while Tre Campbell scored five of his own to put the Cadets up 13-11. A 20-6 St. John's run to open the second quarter left DeMatha down 16. Off the court, Jones argued with his assistants and the refs, earning a technical foul. On the court, his Stags were flat and listless.
But they survived.
Hampton and Wagner signee Corey Henson scored eight straight point to close the half to pull DeMatha within eight, a manageable margin by any means. In the locker room, Jones asked for one thing: a little bit of fight. And who better to turn to than the heavyweights, particularly against a team which plays nearly the entire game with every player standing 6-foot-5 or below?
Ruble is a 6-foot-9, 300-plus-pound Florida State football player signee; Hampton a 6-6, 225-pound power forward with nimble footwork and deft touch at the rim. Together, the duo totaled 35 points, 33 rebounds and more points in the second half (24) than the entire St. John's team (19).
“First half we came out flat. Couldn't make a shot, couldn't rebound,” said Hampton, who finished with a game-high 20 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks. “Second half, coach got on us. He was fired up. He was like, 'We're not going to win this game without a fight.'”
A win wasn't the only thing on DeMatha's mind. By beating St. John's, the Stags locked up the No. 2 seed heading into the WCAC tournament rather than slipping to fourth. That, and it was a fine way to send the seniors out on their final home game, played in front of the Washington Redskins' Josh Wilson and cheered on by the Washington Wizards' cheerleaders.
“I was really glad for our seniors, that we could send them out on the right note,” Jones said. “The way we were getting our rear ends kicked in the first half, that would have been an awful way for them to go out. I'm proud of the guys. We fought, and it showed in the way we played, the way I coached. I couldn't be prouder from the way they battled back.”
DeMatha 73, St. John's 52
St. John's (26-2, 16-2) 13 20 8 11 — 52
DeMatha (25-3, 15-3) 11 14 21 27 — 73
DeMatha: Joe Hampton 20, Brock Ruble 15, Corey Henson 11, Terrell Allen 10, D.J. Harvey 7, Brandon Alston 3, Jaelin Grant 3, Thomas Bruce 2, Alex Newbold 2.
St. John's: Darian Anderson 13, Darian Bryant 10, James Mitchell 8, James Palmer 8, Mike Morsell 7, Tre Campbell 6.