With first place on the line in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, the DeMatha Stags and Gonzaga Eagles gathered to renew their historic rivalry Feb. 20 at DeMatha’s Convocation Center in Hyattsville, Md.

One week after Gonzaga held on for a 62-52 win at home Feb. 13 over their rivals in Washington, D.C., DeMatha players arrived early to a festive crowd of students and supporters large enough to help power them to a 57-52 victory over Gonzaga in front of a raucous crowd.

DeMatha (21-7, 13-4) still has a conference game to play on Feb. 21, which could seal their fate, but they first had to pass Gonzaga (21-6, 13-4), a test they narrowly passed. The game was tight for most of the afternoon until DeMatha sophomore guard Jairus Lyles broke it open in the third quarter with a pair of three-pointers that were part of an 8-1 run to close the third quarter.

“He’s putting in extra work on his shot and tonight he hit a couple of big ones,” DeMatha head coach Mike Jones said.

DeMatha opened its biggest lead of the game after sophomore center BeeJay Anya’s turnaround made it 50-36 with 4:30 left to play in the game but Gonzaga wouldn’t budge. Gonzaga narrowed their deficit to 53-47 with less than two minutes to play before a reoccurring theme reared its head again. Back-to-back offensive rebounds allowed DeMatha to run nearly a minute off the clock before Gonzaga was forced to foul as time ticked away, sealing the game.

“Every time we got a good stop and they got the rebound they made us pay for it,” Gonzaga sophomore guard Nate Britt said.

“They won the little battles: the loose balls, offensive rebounds, second chance opportunities and it made the difference in the game,” Gonzaga head coach Steve Turner added.

Although offensive rebounds were key, Jones sent his players to thank their lively student section immediately following the game. Players shook hands and high-fived students, expressing their gratitude for a support group that’s aided them all season and was at their best when DeMatha needed them the most.

“You got to give them all the credit for that,” Jones said. “They showed up at 10:30 this morning, they were grilling hotdogs outside it became a great atmosphere here and we fed off of that energy. You would hope a DeMatha/Gonzaga game doesn’t need any influence but our students showing up tonight really helped.”

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO