WASHINGTON, D.C. – After a seven-year hiatus, DeMatha Catholic High School reigns as kings of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) in high school basketball.
The Stags (28-5) defeated archrivals Gonzaga 53-52 in the WCAC Boys Basketball Championship at Bender Arena on Feb. 26, winning the school’s 40th conference title and its first since 2011. Sophomore Earl Timberlake, a 6-foot-5 transfer from Rock Creek Christian, scored a team-high 14 points while role players off the bench added 21 critical points for the victory.
Junior guard Justin Moore, who missed out last year’s tournament due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, was full of emotion postgame while taking a video-call with DeMatha alumnus and current NBA star rookie, Markelle Fultz. Moore, who averaged 17.1 points per game this season, had a mission to win the WCAC title since reuniting with the team in the summer.
“I think he is built for this,” Head Coach Mike Jones said about Moore’s tournament performance. “Everybody in his circle has built him up to be a guy who doesn’t say much of anything but work hard…He’s (been playing) on his second wind now.”
It has come full circle for DeMatha (27-5). After losing the semifinal round of the same tournament last year with a seniors-filled roster, the team needed a bounce-back year to reestablish its dominance. The mix of youth transfers and returning players gelled quickly ever since being brought together at the start of summer league play according to Head Coach Mike Jones.
“We play very tough and offensively tough,” Moore said. “We play great together, we are unselfish, and we have what it takes (to win games).”
After defeating Bishop Ireton 72-58 in the quarterfinals on Feb. 24, the Stags were poised to carry through all the momentum from the regular season forward for a championship run. In the semifinals, Moore’s 34-point performance outlasted senior Xavier Johnson in a battle of point guards to lead the Stags to a 73-63 win over No. 3 Bishop O’Connell on Feb. 25.
At one point, both star players traded baskets, but it was Moore who lasted the longest as he continued hitting all his targets, scoring all of DeMatha’s 15 points in the third quarter.
“I made a couple three’s early (in the third), and once I made a few, for the rest of them, it just feels like the rim gets bigger for me,” Moore said. “So, I kept being aggressive and my shot was falling.”
Concerns arose over the health of sophomore center Hunter Dickinson as he wore a brace over his left knee for the final two games in the tournament. According to Jones, a collision with another player forced the removal of Dickinson during the quarterfinals to tend to the knee.
However, the seven-foot-one Stag rarely slowed down in the semifinals, scoring 25 points, and almost collected a double-double in the championship game with nine points and 12 rebounds.
“The injury really isn’t an injury,” Jones said. “They put the knee brace on for his confidence level…and you cannot question it, and he played great (vs. O’Connell).”
With a championship under its belt, DeMatha’s young core of sophomore and juniors will be expected to replicate their success next year. After overseeing the rebuild this summer and the transformation to a battle-tested roster, Jones said he hopes the team can continue building off the success of this season.
“When last year ended and with all the seniors leaving, a lot of people were talking about who will make it to the championship, and we weren’t mentioned,” Jones said. “Honestly, we are not used to that, and I think our guys worked really hard to have this opportunity.”