By: Stephen Spiewak
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The stage is set for Monday night’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final at Bender Arena on the campus of American University as Gonzaga (D.C.) and Bishop O’Connell (Va.) advanced in Sunday‘s action.
Gonzaga knocked off Archbishop Carroll (Md.) in the first game of the night, while Bishop O’Connell was able to hold off defending WCAC champion DeMatha (Md.) in the nightcap.
Gonzaga (D.C.) 68, Archbishop Carroll (Md.) 57
The Gonzaga Eagles used a huge game from junior forward Ian Hummer to get past a feisty Carroll squad 68-57.
Hummer scored 28 points while making his presence felt in less tangible ways. He hustled to every loose ball and rebound, and his fiery play pushed Gonzaga to the victory.
Despite his fine performance, Hummer deflected credit to his teammates.
“(Guard) Cedric Lindsay gave me some great passes down low, and Cam (Saddler) gave me some great passes,” he said. “We’ve been taught by our coaches to take our time, and just go up as strong as we can.”
Facing stiff competition from the post in the form of Carroll’s 6-8 forward Kris Joseph, Hummer’s points in the paint helped the Eagles pull away late.
“We like to hit the post a lot,” Hummer said.
Joseph, along with senior Rodney McGruder, almost led the Lions to a big upset win. Joseph finished with 18 points, including some nearly impossible finishes in the post. McGruder had a huge second half, throwing down monster dunks on more than one occasion.
In the end, it wasn’t quite enough, as the Gonzaga defense clamped down in the fourth quarter, stretching a three point lead into an eleven point win.
“(Our) defense is why we’re going to have an opportunity to play in the finals,” said head coach Steve Turner. “They had to make stops at the right time, and they did that tonight.”
Turner reiterated a theme that’s stuck with the team all season, that a WCAC title run began long before December.
“They took pride in staying together this summer, not every kid running around with their AAU team,” he said. “They set a goal, and that is to get to tomorrow’s game. Now they have an opportunity to win a WCAC championship.”
With the team’s only loss this season coming at the hands of DeMatha, the team had been hoping to see the Stags again in the finals.
“They did beat us the first time, and we kind of want to get back at them, even though we beat them the one time,” Hummer said, before the Stags game against Bishop O’Connell tipped off. “We kind of want to beat them in the championship.”
Bishop O’Connell (Va.) 55, DeMatha (Md.) 49
DeMatha was unable to hold up its end of the deal, squandering a 16 point first half lead and falling to Bishop O’Connell 55-49.
The Stags jumped on O’Connell early. Junior swingman Naji Hibbert couldn’t miss, nailing several three pointers early on, including one at the start of the second quarter that pushed the lead to 22-6.
But the Knights began to chip away slowly right before half time. Senior sharpshooter Jason Clark and sophomore sensation Kendall Marshall scored at the end of the quarter, while Dave Eismeier came off the bench to provide a shot in the arm for O’Connell, which trimmed the deficit to 30-19 at half time.
Clark scored 10 of his game high 16 points in the second half to help complete the comeback, and said that the team never lost its confidence.
“We’ve been down before, but we know what we can do,” said Clark. “After the first quarter, (coach) told us we weren’t playing how we should be playing, and that we had to pick it up. And we did.”
O’Connell coach Joe Wootten’s adjustments paid off. Against a small, guard laden DeMatha squad, Wootten kept 6-11 Frank Ben-Eze on the bench, using his perimeter players to match up against DeMatha’s guards, particularly Hibbert and sophomore point guard Josh Selby.
After a big first half, Hibbert was shut down in the second half, finishing with a team leading 14 points.
“I thought we did a great job of changing what they wanted to do,” said Wootten. “I thought our man to man defense was tremendous down the stretch.”
Wootten also said that, despite the team’s deficit early, he told his players to focus on each individual possession to climb out of an the early hole.
“I told the kids to take it one possession at a time, and not try to come back all at once,” he said.
Once O’Connell seized the lead at 39-38, they did not relinquish it. Maurice Williams hit eight consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter to ice the victory.
Facing Gonzaga in Monday’s final, Clark knows that his team will have to prepare for a battle with a team that plays a more interior brand of basketball.
“We have to work on being more physical because Gonzaga’s a physical team. We have to box them out, because that’s how they beat us on the boards,” he said.
A championship game victory would be the perfect way to end senior season, Clark said.
“That’d be amazing. I would love it.”