Quinn Cook was scoring, Victor Oladipo was flying through the air and Mikael Hopkins was controlling the paint. Everything was normal for the DeMatha Stags in the City Title game at the Verizon Center. It was their sparring partner, the Ballou Knights, who appeared to have stage fright in front of record crowd of 7,553, the largest ever to attend a City Title game.


DeMatha (30-3) shook off a slow start to top the Knights 80-70 on March 14 for their second consecutive city championship, the school’s fifth in six years. Ballou (30-5) jumped out to 7-0 start behind explosive scorer Donte Thomas. His drives to the paint and crowd energizing dunks kept the Knights in the game early and provided some spark for a shell-shocked Ballou team until DeMatha’s regulars took over.


Senior Jerian Grant got the Stags going with a couple of dunks and a three-pointer en route to his 17 points. By the time the first quarter ended with DeMatha leading 20-17, the Stags had gotten a handle on Thomas and Grant was matching him dunk for dunk and shot for shot. Ballou’s Thomas, who finished with 24 points, came into the game on a tear. The senior guard had scored 62 points in his last two outings but once DeMatha switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense late in the first quarter, even the reigning D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association’s player of the year was powerless against it.


“We corralled him,” DeMatha guard Quinn Cook said. “Always a hand in his face and him work because in the beginning he wasn’t really working for his baskets and he had a couple of nice plays.”


DeMatha made their defensive game plan simple: make someone else besides Thomas score. Aside from Ballou guards Christian Leach and Zalmico Harmon Jr.’s 27 combined points, the rest of the Knights appeared reluctant to shoot against a swarming Stags team. DeMatha’s zone made sure Thomas would draw athletic defenders Oladipo or Grant once he drove to the basket. And even if the star guard managed to get past them, the 6-foot-8 Hopkins was waiting to swat away anything that Thomas was willing to throw up.


While Ballou’s star couldn’t get it going, Cook, DeMatha’s leading scorer, exploded after the half. With his team up 37-30 after intermission, the junior guard scored 24 of his game-high 28 points in the second half as Cook and the rest of his teammates ran away with the game. Ballou wouldn’t get any closer than four points in the final two quarters as DeMatha cranked up the offense by going deep into their bench and converting a numerous amount of layups and fast breaks, led by Cook.


“I just wanted to play my game,” Cook said on his second half explosion. “I kind of fell into the Quinn Cook vs. Zalmico Harmon matchup, so I just wanted to back and play my game.”


DeMatha’s win continued a streak of dominance for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference in the City Title game against the DCIAA. The WCAC has now won nine titles over the past 10 years, with only one game in the last six seasons being decided by less than double digits.

The Stags will now ready themselves to attend the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament March 18-20 at Frostburg State University. DeMatha stands a likely chance of meeting WCAC rival Gonzaga, last year’s champions, for a fourth time this season. DeMatha leads the season series 2-1 after beating Gonzaga 71-52 in the WCAC title game on March 8.

“Nobody on this team has won the championship up there,” Cook said. “We got third place last year so we want to go out there and get the gold.” 

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO