Timely Shooting Lifts Cadets Over DeMatha

By Adam Gutekunst, Special to Capitol Hoops

As St. John’s College High School senior guard Dejuan Clayton iced away the final seconds of a 61-54 Cadets win in front of a capacity crowd at DeMatha Catholic on Tuesday evening, a tranquil applause could barely be made out from the far corner of the court.

There stood teammate, Jeff Dowtin, hands meeting at eye level as he surveyed the scene around him and the blue bandage on his right arm he earned during the Stags furious, but futile comeback attempt in the closing minutes. Just moments before, in the corner nestled between the two humming student sections, Dowtin had single handedly halted three separate DeMatha runs to keep the Stags at a manageable distance and ultimately catapult St. John’s into the driver’s seat atop the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

“It was wide open,” Cadets coach Sean McAloon said of Downtin’s crucial third quarter spree. “I guess that’s the best way to put it. We just did a good job of moving the ball and finding somebody there. [Jeff] hit some big ones and once they condensed the lead we were able to hit a couple shots to stem the tide and be able to continue.”

After the first 16 minutes of action, however, it was far from certain whether the home team would be able to muster any kind of significant shot at the visiting Cadets. McDonald’s All-American guard Markelle Fultz picked up two personal fouls within the first two minutes of action and spent most of the half on the bench, along with star teammates Nate Darling, a University of Alabama-Birmingham commit and D.J. Harvey, a top-15 prospect in the class of 2017. The three DeMatha standouts combined for only 11 first half points, and faced a 32-13 deficit at the half.

But even with the momentum firmly on St. John’s side, the Cadets knew the game was far from finished.

“Before going to halftime I huddled them up and told them that [DeMatha] was going to go on a run and our job was just to maintain our lead,” Cadets senior guard Anthony Cowan said.

Cowan’s premonitions proved to be correct, as a flurry of opening baskets from Fultz and Darling slowly chipped away at the once-substantial margin. An old-fashioned three-point play from Darling with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter sliced the St. John’s lead to 34-23 and shot a jolt of energy throughout the gymnasium that had fallen rather flat. It also, however, provided the stage for Dowtin and Cowan to steal the show.

As the shot clock dwindled down towards expiration on the following possession, the shifty Cowan got an edge on his defender, barrelling towards the rim and leaving his feet to rifle a pass halfway across the width of the court to Dowtin, waiting perfectly in position to launch the first of his three third quarter trifectas from the exact same spot – all of which served as dramatic responses to a DeMatha three-point play.

“I just kept telling my team to be ready,” said Cowan, who dished out a medley of skillful assists to go along with his 19 points. “Every time I drove they really forced on me, and my teammates, they stepped up big, hitting big shots. That was one of the biggest keys of the game.”

“Before the game we kind of talk, communicate and envision ourselves in the game so we can know what we can do on the court,” Dowtin, who finished with a game-high 24 points, said. “In that moment, when I see [Anthony] dribble the ball, I know, ‘Alright, I can spot up for the three and I can knock it down.’”

DeMatha would come as close as 53-49 in the closing minutes, but was unable to overcome their early foul trouble and subsequent slow start. The loss was just the second league defeat of the season for the Stags, who had staged a late comeback win at St. John’s just a month before.

For the Cadets, it was the second major road win in as many weeks, after stealing a 61-57 win at Gonzaga on Feb. 2. But for a team with their sights set on a WCAC championship in just a handful of weeks, Tuesday’s marquee win was just another school night.

“To be honest with you, it’s really just a Tuesday night,” Cowan said. ‘“We’re just trying to worry about two weeks after this and trying to get us a better place in the playoffs … We feel like we are the best. So there’s no big games for us. I felt like we came into the game and everyone was talking about DeMatha, but we really did a good job handling our own.”