Tony Carr had a team-best 21 points as Roman Catholic won its second straight PCL title. (Photo: Josh Verlin)
Stephen Pianovich (@SPianovich)
Six weeks before the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship, Roman Catholic had a problem. The Cahillites, the defending league winners, were doing fine on the offensive end.
But they weren’t getting enough stops.
So, as coach Chris McNesby put it, the team “recommitted to defense.” Monday night in the team’s biggest game of the season, that was evident.
Roman did what no other Catholic League team was able to in the 2015-16 season: The Cahillites slowed down Neuman-Goretti. Roman won its second consecutive league title, capturing another PCL crown with a 72-65 win over the Saints. The Cahillites did it with defense and a combined 43 points from guard Tony Carr and forward Lamar Stevens.
They were able to play with a lead for pretty much the entire game after jumping out to an 11-0 lead three minutes into the contest, which was played without an empty seat in the Palestra. With the lead, Roman was able to dictate the pace and took the run-and-gun Saints out of their rhythm.
“Our guys, they were hungry, I think the first time we flat-out, our guys knew it, they were hungrier than us, they wanted it more, McNesby said.
"And they’re an unbelievable team, you’ve got to beat a champion to become a champion and that’s amazing, because I have so much respect for those guys and tremendous program and for us to take the challenge of they played harder than us, everyone picked against us but that’s okay, because they deserve the credit of everyone picking them. I respect them for that.”
McNesby was referring to an early season loss to the Saints, which Roman followed up with a loss to Archbishop Carroll four days later.
It seemed Roman’s title defense was in jeopardy last month, but since, the team has won 12 straight PCL games. And those last two wins came on the floor of the Palestra against those two squads who beat the Cahillites.
“I think those losses really showed us that we weren’t that good,” said Stevens, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. “We couldn’t just win off our talent. We had to go down and play and really play defense the best we could. Everybody bought it and it really showed on the court.”
Neuman-Goretti, which had its previous low scoring outing in the PCL with 67 points in a win over St. Joe’s Prep and averaged 80.8 points per game in league play, went just 2-of-20 on 3-pointers. The Saints, who went 14-0 in the regular season, got at least 14 points from four different players, including Vaughn Covington who had a team-best 16 and a 14-point, 15-rebound showing from Dhamir Crosby-Roundtree, but were far from their usual selves in transition.
“It’s going to hurt when we put the time in that we’ve put in and have the game go that way,” Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said afterward. “That was the only way I thought we could lose, if the game got real physical and we couldn’t hold up with our size. We’ll get them to the next practice and try to keep moving forward.”
Added McNesby: "We took pretty good shots, and if you take good shots, it leads to we can get back on defense. If you take bad shots, they can get out and go. That helped us that our possessions on offense were quality.”
The Cahillites led by five at halftime, but Neumann-Goretti was able to tie the game in the third quarter at 44-44 when Green hit the team’s first triple. But Roman was able to get some separation by the quarter’s end and led 54-50 heading into the last eight minutes when Stevens hit a buzzer-beating jumper.
Roman again separated itself thanks to a pair of putbacks late in the fourth. D’Andre Vimar scored on a possession on the Cahillites’ fourth attempt, and after three free throws from Neumann-Goretti, Nazeer Bostick scored off an offensive rebound on the next possession.
Bostick, who like Stevens and Carr is a Penn State commit, had a double-double in the PCL title game for the second straight year, scoring 13 points and securing 10 rebounds.
Some shaky free throw shooting saw Roman’s lead dwindle from nine points to three in the final minute, but the Cahillites eventually corrected themselves at the charity stripe and sealed the deal. Once the victory was certain, Bostick and Stevens found themselves in the corner of the court sharing a celebratory embrace – one that some people might not have thought they would get a little more than a month ago.
“This was special,” Stevens said. “It’s what we sweat for and grind for every day. So we had to embrace each other because it was such a huge moment with all our work paying off.”